VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS APRIL 23

HCMC’s corporate income tax revenue up in Q1

VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS APRIL 23
Local workers make shoes. HCMC’s revenue from corporate income tax in the first quarter of 2021 soared by some 31%, or VND6.1 trillion, year-on-year - PHOTO: VNA



The resumption of many businesses after the country successfully managed to contain Covid-19 pushed HCMC’s revenue from corporate income tax in the first quarter of 2021 by some 31% or VND6.1 trillion, year-on-year.

The growth has been the highest over the past five years. In the first quarter of 2020, the city saw revenue from corporate income tax rise by a mere 6.05% year-on-year, while the year-on-year increase in corporate income tax collections was 9.6% in 2019 and 7.05% in 2018.

HCMC collected VND81.2 trillion for the State budget between January and March, meeting 31.6% of the target and rising 14.8% year-on-year, according to the HCMC Tax Department.

As for the revenue from corporate income tax, collections from the non-State industry, trade and services sector surged 59.7% or VND5.5 trillion and accounted for 91% of the rise in corporate income tax revenue.

Apart from the rise in corporate income tax collections, the city also saw the revenue from value-added tax in the first quarter of the year grow by 14.5% year-on-year, the local media reported.

Between January and March, the revenue from excise taxes, mainly on beer, wine and automobiles, also improved by 18.9% or VND985 billion, year-on-year.

During the three-month period, the collection from land use fees surged by 86.8% or VND1.3 trillion, year-on-year, according to the HCMC Tax Department.

Local stocks tumble due to market sell-off

The benchmark VN-Index of the HCMC market shed over 40 points to close at its intraday low today, April 22, due to a strong sell-off.

With 80 advancers and up to 365 decliners, the main index lost 40.46 points, or 3.19% over the session earlier at 1,227.82. Turnover on the southern bourse contracted nearly 8% in volume and 11% in value against the previous session at over 770 million shares and more than VND20.6 trillion, including some VND2 trillion worth of shares traded in block deals.

None of the stocks in the VN30 basket increased, with only lender VCB and mobile phone retailer MWG closing unchanged. Retailer VRE, brokerage SSI, sugar maker SBT, and consumer goods producer MSN were the poorest performers as they closed at their floor prices.

Besides this, two bank stocks CTG and STB nearly fell to their floor prices, plunging 6.8% and 6.7%, respectively. Other big losers were financial service provider TCH, lender BID, housing developer VHM, and electricity firm POW, which edged down around 5%, in addition to VIC, HDB, BVH, and KDH.

Regarding liquidity, lender STB was the most actively traded stock in the basket with over 35.4 million shares changing hands, followed by steelmaker HPG with a matching volume of 33 million shares, lender CTG with over 21.4 million shares, and lender VPB with 18.5 million shares.

Trading among speculative stocks also turned negative with scores of stocks felling to their floor prices such as ITA, HAG, HQC, HSG, SCR, TTF, KBC, PVD, HBC, DCM, and GVR. Of them, industrial park developer ITA reported the highest matching volume of over 22.7 million shares.

AMD, VIX, and VPG, meanwhile, bucked the market downtrend as they hit their upper limits.

Property group FLC and construction firm ROS, two members in the FLC family, were the two most actively traded stocks on the southern bourse, with 38.1 million and 36 million shares transacted, respectively, but they ended with losses.

On the northern bourse, the HNX-Index lost 9.44 points, or 3.18% versus the previous session to close at 287.04, with 39 stocks rising and 157 others dipping. Lender SHB led the Hanoi market by liquidity with over 29.9 million shares traded.

Residents on edge after fake trading app Coolcat disappears

Many residents trading hundreds of millions of Vietnamese dong on fake app Coolcat were on tenterhooks after the app disappeared.

Over the past few days, many residents nationwide who poured hundreds of millions to billions of Vietnamese dong into Coolcat were worried as they failed to locate the app, a type of exchange for gold, virtual currency and U.S. dollars.

“I invested VND200 million in the Coolcat app after learning that it was an exchange with 100% capital insurance and brought high profits to the investors,” N.M.Ngoc, who resides in HCMC’s Tan Binh District, told the Saigon Times.

“However, a few days ago, I failed to locate the app, so I was worried that I would not regain my money,” he said.

Many other residents in Hanoi, Danang, Bac Kan, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Binh Phuoc, Haiphong, Ninh Thuan and Hau Giang also invested in the Coolcat app.

The app has attracted many users as it offers high profits. After participants downloaded the app and signed in with their phone numbers, they would be provided with a code to make bets on the prices of Bitcoin and gold. If they won, they would get 75% of the winning money and a refund if they lost.

Earlier in late 2020, competent agencies warned residents and firms of online scams. In the local market, hundreds of forex websites and apps such as FXPro.vn, Coolcatapp.com and Wefinex are operating in a multilevel marketing way.

Experts said that such financial exchanges and forex apps often posed much risk as investors’ transactions were conducted via their accounts linked to the apps that were yet to be licensed by State authorities. As such, if they faced some problems related to the apps, they would not get any protection.

Coolcat or Wefinex is an exchange with binary option trading in which the payoff for bets on the prices of crypto, gold and stocks is either some fixed monetary amount or nothing at all, a technology financial expert in HCMC said on April 21.

UNDP announces study on corporate awareness, responsible business practice in Vietnam

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Embassy of Sweden in Vietnam announced key findings of the Study on Corporate Awareness and Implementation of Responsible Business Practice in Vietnam in 2020 at an event in Hanoi on April 22.

The study found that the level of awareness of business enterprises on responsible business practice (RBP) remains low, especially among domestic small private businesses, with less than half of the small domestic enterprises fully understanding of RBP whereas 81 percent of the State-owned enterprises (SOE) understanding the concept and its implications fully.

The study also shows that 84-90 percent of respondents comply fully with existing regulations dealing with labor issues (e.g. insurance; bonus and benefits schemes; safety and hygiene). The corresponding percentage for environmental protection was 50-73 percent. Less than 68 percent of respondents fully adhere to regulations on business governance such as transparent bidding and purchasing, and consumer protection.

The Swedish Ambassador to Vietnam, Ann Mawe, said UNDP in Vietnam, in partnership with the Government of Sweden, has been driving forward responsible business practices since 2019 as part of the regional programme “Promoting Responsible Business Practices through Regional Partnerships in Asia”.

The study focuses on labour, environmental, and governance issues, with the data being collected through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and a survey with 279 respondents. 

In the years ahead, the study aims to assist Vietnam in building a national plan of actions on RBP by 2022, which will help the country achieve sustainable development goals and bring its legal framework on a par with international standards.

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Sitara Syed said despite Vietnam’s rapid, yet relatively inclusive economic growth, and an influx of investment that have brought opportunities, many problems remain. She highly appreciated the Ministry of Justice for leading the design and adoption of Vietnam’s first National Action Plan on Responsible Business Practices by 2022. /.

More than 1,000 firms are owing social insurances in Quang Ngai

By the end of March, over 1,000 firms owe months of social, health and unemployment insurance payments in Quang Ngai valued at VND179bn (USD7.7m).

Tieu Sinh, director of Social Insurance Quang Ngai, said as of the end of March, 109,368 people had joined the mandatory social insurance programme and 98,416 people had joined the unemployment insurance programme. Over 1.15 million people joined the health insurance programme.

However, firms still owed VND179bn in insurance fees. More than 1,000 firms owe insurance for over three months or VND121bn (USD5.2m) in insurance. 212 firms owe 12 months of insurance for VND66.8bn. VND30.45bn of bad debts have been reported by 272 firms.

According to Sinh, the number of insurance participants dropped by 2% compared to late 2020. Because of Covid-19, firms that specialised in footwear, textiles, woodworking and electronic components have seen delayed orders. As a result, they have to lay off staff and down-size businesses.

The insurance debts are on the rise. The total debt was VND42bn (USD1.8m) higher than the debt in late 2020.

Social Insurance Quang Ngai has worked with the Taxation Department and the Department of Planning and Investment to review the situation and classify the firms based on their situation.

Afterwards, the authorities will start collecting debts and adopt measures to prevent more debts.

Medley of factors spur property-buying spree

The real estate frenzy across the nation has pushed land prices to record heights, while lenders are taking a vigilant approach. However, tightening real estate loans may not be the magic bullet to rein in buyers. 

In this first quarter, land price rises were experienced across various provinces and cities, in the range of 30-50 per cent. Cities and provinces neighbouring Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have witnessed a significant increase, usually up to as much as 50 per cent.

“Low interest rates, an improving domestic economy, the rising popularity of urban lifestyle, and glittering appeal of industrial property as well as potential infrastructure projects have significantly spurred property buying across the nation in the past few years,” explained State Bank of Vietnam’s (SBV) Deputy Governor Dao Minh Tu.

The price hikes from north to south have attracted large amounts of cash flow. As of mid-March, real estate credit increased by 2.13 per cent, higher than the banking sector’s credit growth rate of the whole system (2.04 per cent). However, the SBV noted that real estate credit increased tremendously at a limited number of banks.

Both foreign-invested and local lenders are also trimming their interest rates to cash in on the increasing mortgage demand, illustrated in the cases of Shinhan Bank, UOB, and Standard Chartered. For instance, UOB reduced its rates from 8.7 to 6.49 per cent annually, while Shinhan Bank cut its annual rates from 6.7 to 6.3 per cent.

Some market watchdogs believed that, in the short term, the economic downturn has pushed investment capital flows out of manufacturing, tourism, and services sectors, which could find their way to the real estate industry. In the long run, real estate will be consistently placed high on the investment portfolio of individual and institutional investors, as its glitter of offering physical shelter and value stand the test of time.

Deputy Governor Tu of the SBV noted that the central bank has kept a firm hand on capital flows into the real estate sector due to their risky nature. Accordingly, credit pouring into the real estate sector has been gradually reduced during the last three years, especially in 2020 due to the pandemic. This ratio had grown by 11.89 per cent, compared to 26 and 28 per cent in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In the first three months of this year, credit had grown by 3 per cent against the end of 2020, nearly equal to the normal ratio of 2.93 per cent in general.

“The figures show that the SBV is keeping a tight grip on the real estate loans, especially the flow into the high-end and hospitality segment,” Tu said.

Specifically, the central bank has set limits and safety ratios in banking operations to gradually reduce the ratio of short-term capital reserved for medium- and long-term loans and apply higher risk ratios for the loans of high value house buyers, aiming to direct credit flows into medium- and low-cost and social housing which are in major need of the end-users.

On the same note, commercial lenders are also taking a cautious approach to the real estate sector.

According to Nguyen Dinh Tung, general director of OCB Bank, when granting credit quotas to lenders, the SBV also guides the orientation of pouring capital into five priority areas. The portfolio of loans for securities and real estate, which are considered as risky sectors, has been strictly curbed accordingly.

Nguyen Hoang Linh, general director of MSB, said that by the end of the first quarter of 2021, the bank’s real estate loan proportion was only about 11 per cent of its total outstanding loans, much lower than 21 per cent in 2019.

Nguyen Thanh Do, vice chairman of HDBank’s board, stated that the real estate loans account for around 19 per cent of the total outstanding loans of the whole economy.

“Commercial banks are now becoming well-equipped to make it through the real estate bubble. Besides the SBV’s tightening regulations in this regard, each lender should implement its own legal corridor to set a loan ceiling ratio in this risky sector, which is in line with its financial health,” Do suggested.

Notwithstanding, the credit on the real estate market is not the main reason for the land price hike, and the stricter tightening of real estate credit cannot halt the increasing price, cited the SBV.

Even credit has increased slightly again, and not signalled any abnormal signs. Amid the turmoil of the real estate market in 2011-2012, credit for the real estate sector accounted for 40 per cent of the total outstanding loans of the whole system.

“Real estate-linked credit is not a major foundation for the land price hike. Real estate-related firms are hunting for more cash through various channels, such as corporate bonds, remittances, foreign direct investment, and mergers and acquisitions,” said Deputy Governor Tu.

Nguyen Tu Anh, general director of the Department of Economics Affairs at the Party Central Committee’s Economic Commission noted, “The main reason for the land price hike stems from the announcement of future plans for infrastructure, industrial parks, and new construction. Thus, tightening real estate credit would not be the magic pill to stop the feverish excitement in land.”

Big-shot groups aim again for IPO success

The vehicle arm of Vietnam’s biggest conglomerate, along with one of the country’s newest airlines, are both pondering fundraising activities involving listing on the New York Stock Exchange – a first for any Vietnamese company after several aborted attempts in the past years.

Last week investors were hoping to make a killing after VinFast – the automaker of Vietnamese behemoth Vingroup – was said to be considering an initial public offering (IPO) in the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), which could raise as much as $2 billion.

Despite a number of flops by other Vietnamese peers, media outlets such as Bloomberg and Reuters reported that VinFast could be valued at around $50 billion after a successful listing – seen as surprising given that car giant Ford was valued at $144 billion in 2018, while VinFast is only a few years old. News of the consideration led Vingroup’s ticker to rise significantly in multiple consecutive trading sessions last week.

Meanwhile, Bamboo Airways, a subsidiary of FLC Group, also revealed plans to raise up to $200 million in an overseas IPO in the third quarter of this year, particularly in the United States. The company aims to secure market capitalisation of up to $4 billion.

“The IPO will be part of our efforts to expand our services globally. We will start conducting chartered flights to the US in July and target the launch of non-stop commercial flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco in September, with an initial frequency of three flights per week,” said company chairman Trinh Van Quyet.

Quyet revealed that the carrier has been working with an international auditing firm for a potential IPO on the NYSE. Previously, Bamboo Airways signalled its intention to file for an IPO in Vietnam itself, but Quyet said that was now “a backup plan, depending on market conditions,” according to Reuters.

Kent Wong, head of Banking and Finance Capital Markets at VCI Legal, noted that Vingroup-affiliated companies have tried their luck in the overseas listing game before. In 2014, the conglomerate failed in listing on the Singaporean Stock Exchange (SGX). Huy Vietnam, owner of the Mon Hue restaurant chain, also tried to list in Hong Kong five years ago.

In fact, a number of major domestic corporations have not stood up to the scrutiny of global public markets.

Previously, VNG Corporation – Vietnam’s first unicorn – signalled its intention to file for an IPO in the tech-heavy NASDAQ. Budget-cost carrier Vietjet also followed suit, saying it would ramp up its effort to list on the NYSE.

In 2008, dairy giant Vinamilk had been approved on the SGX, but its IPO plan was consistently delayed and the group is still nowhere closer to entering the regional bourse.

In 2019, Quyet also announced that his group was ramping up efforts to be listed on the SGX at the bourse’s 20th anniversary event, a move which he said would “bolster its business, hone its image, and replenish overseas capital.”

“The SGX is a top international destination which provides value to businesses that want to extend their overseas ambition. FLC aims to become listed on the SGX next year or in 2021,” he said at the time.

Wong of VCI Legal noted that Vietnamese companies might need 2-3 years to prepare for overseas listing, mainly due to differences between accounting standards and high standards of corporate governance and internal controls in overseas stock exchanges.

“While it is applaudable that VinFast is looking to raise capital through an alternative channel overseas, I would query whether it has objectively considered its readiness,” he told VIR. “Breaking into global markets which are highly competitive will be tough going. The long-term strategy of the company and timing are also key. Given the ‘new normal’, external factors and the strong macroeconomic conditions of Vietnam do not make compelling enough arguments.”

Vietnamese regulators, on the other hand, can develop the legal framework to be more in line with international standards. Recent reforms to the Law on Securities and the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering are positive signs. In addition, cooperation with more overseas exchanges will give potential issuers more chances for dual listings and, as a result, more liquidity.

Michael Kokalari, chief economist at VinaCapital said, “The government should focus on developing Vietnam’s capital markets first, and should especially focus on making it easier for foreign investors to bring money into Vietnam before regulators encourage Vietnamese companies to list their shares on foreign stock markets.”

Wong agreed, adding, “The NASDAQ has been tightening listing standards due to the spate of Chinese companies listing, for example. However, the special purpose acquisition company route looked at by VinFast might be achievable, provided there is a strong sponsor.”

Rubber exports on a roll in first quarter

The high demand of automobile manufactures as well as increasing purchases by other countries have pushed up the price of Vietnamese rubber exports, making prospects rosy for domestic companies.

In the first quarter, DakLak Rubber Investment JSC (DRI) recorded more than VND16 billion ($695,650) in net profit thanks to increased consumption volume and high rubber prices. DRI sold 3,126 tonnes of rubber latex with an average selling price of $1,693 a tonne, up 212.4 and 136.8 per cent over the same period last year. Revenue for the period reached VND125 billion (5.43 million), higher than the VND53 billion ($2.3 million) in the previous first quarter.

Other companies also reported rising export prices. Typically, the average price of a ton of rubber in the first two months of Dong Phu Rubber JSC (DPR) reached VND46 million ($2,000), up 25.5 per cent on-year, according to a report by BIDV Securities Company (BSC).

Additionally, Tay Ninh Rubber JSC (TRC) reported an average price of VND46.3 million ($2013) a tonne, an increase of 35 per cent compared to the average price of 2020.

Data from the Agency of Foreign Trade showed that accumulated in the first three months, rubber exports reached about 435,000 tonnes, worth $722 million, up 89.7 per cent in volume and 116.6 per cent in value over the same period of 2020.

Particularly in March, Vietnam's rubber export reached about 140,000 tonnes, worth $243 million, up 33.6 per cent in volume and 40.3 per cent in value compared to February.

Compared to the same period last year, rubber exports in March increased by 130.7 per cent in volume and 178.5 per cent in value.

According to MB Securities, Asian rubber prices are expected to rebound due to global economic recovery. In particular, the World Bank forecasts that rubber prices will increase by 3 per cent this year.

During the period from March 15 to April 15, rubber prices witnessed a significant decline in the context of the number of COVID-19 infections continuing to increase globally.

However, in the long term, with the prospect of global economic recovery as well as concerns about the shortage of rubber supply in Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, rubber prices are expected to rise again.

In addition, China's domestic rubber supply has plummeted as rubber plantations were strongly affected by droughts and floods in 2020.

Another reason for this trend is the fact that car manufacturers are facing a potential shortage of rubber, the main material used to produce tires and many other important car parts.

The Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) said that natural rubber (NR) supply is estimated to recover at 1.3 per cent on-year to 910,000 tonnes in March, while global consumption is projected at 1.234 million tonnes, up 7.4 per cent during the same reference period.

Favourable market fundamentals in the NR sector have supported the price growth in the futures and physical markets, except the Shanghai Futures Exchange.

Vietnam asserting its brand identity on the global stage

This week the Ministry of Industry and Trade in coordination with agencies, businesses, and other organisations will hold the National Brand Week Programme 2021 to celebrate efforts made by the government, the ministry, and the business community to enhance the position and image of Vietnamese brands through the Vietnam Value Programme.
 
The ranking of Vietnamese brands has been continuously improved thanks to the government’s efforts to promote economic growth, with a significant contribution of the Vietnam Value Programme. The successes amid the programme have become a solid foundation and promise to increase competitiveness of Vietnamese businesses on the global stage.

In Vietnam, more corporations and businesses are becoming aware of the importance of branding as the key to increase product and corporate value. Among them, Secoin JSC is a typical example as it exports its decorative bricks to more than 60 markets around the world.

Dinh Hong Ky, chairman of Secoin said, “With the support of the programme, we have gradually built, developed, and promoted our brand and professionalism, contributing to improve our competitiveness and reaffirm our position in domestic and foreign markets.”

Enterprises with recognised as Vietnam Value – such as TH Group, Vietnam Airlines, BRG Group, Truong Hai Auto Corporation (THACO), Hoa Phat Group, Viettel, and Sunhouse – have over the years not only positioned their names in the country but also beyond Vietnam’s borders.

For example, TH Group’s organic fresh milk and other products have been widely exported to many markets in the world; while THACO has gradually brought Vietnamese cars to the world, even to demanding markets such as the US and Japan.

According to the evaluation of Steering Committee 35 under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT), after nearly 17 years the Vietnam Value Programme has achieved many positive results and created a reputation for local businesses among regulators as well as domestic and foreign consumers.

The enhancement of competitiveness of local businesses is based on many factors, but the expansion of production scale, labour force, and revenue increases over the years have played an important part.

According to the reports of 124 enterprises with products recognised as Vietnam Value in the seventh selection period, the total revenue of those businesses in 2019 amounted to over $60.8 billion, with the total export revenue accounting for more than $5.9 billion and a contribution to the state budget of over $8.7 billion, as well as created jobs for more than 470,000 workers.

The ranking of Vietnam’s national brands has continuously improved over the past four years, thanks to the government’s efforts to reform the business and investment environment, improve import and export, and support the branding of products and businesses.

 

Through products honoured as Vietnam Value, the government has focused on building and developing Vietnamese brands associated with positive values, effective implementation based on unity, and a set strategy of importing and exporting goods and services.

Therefore, within the national economy, export turnover targets of products and services reaching the standards of the programme are also set higher than the national average growth rate. In the opposite direction, enterprises have also shown efforts to help Vietnam’s national brands gradually gain a foothold in the international playing field.

In 2020 due to the heavy influence of the pandemic, on average the 10 countries with top brands in the world suffered, and so have regional countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

From a global perspective, Vietnam’s national brand has the fastest growth rate in the world, bringing Vietnam to 33rd on the list of the 100 most valuable national brands, according to leading brand value firm Brand Finance.

As per the Global Soft Power Index Report 2021 by Brand Finance, Vietnam is the only country in ASEAN to be upgraded compared to 2020 in the global soft power ranking. The position of Vietnam has also improved by 2.5 points, increasing by three ranks, from 50 out of 60 in 2020 to 47 out of 105 ranked nations in 2021.

Samir Dixit, managing director of Brand Finance Asia-Pacific commented, “Vietnam is considered a bright spot thanks to a remarkable increase in national brand values and economic and social results achieved in the past year.”

Vietnam has been striving to enhance the position of local brands in the international market through proactively participating in regional and global free trade agreements (FTA). Ngo Chung Khanh, deputy director of the MoIT’s Multilateral Trade Policy Department, noticed that the signing and implementation of new generation FTAs have put Vietnam among the leading countries in the process of economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to Khanh, Vietnam will carve out a special position as these FTAs enhance the country’s position in ASEAN and internationally, creating opportunities for businesses to expand their export markets and participate more deeply in global production and supply chains.

Participation in FTAs opens new opportunities but there are also many unpredictable factors. Vu Ba Phu, general director of the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency and head of the Secretariat of the Vietnam Value Programme, said that to make good use of these opportunities, it is necessary to recognise the limitations of national brand development for products as well as corporates.

“Enterprises need efforts, determination, and creativity to quickly build and strongly develop their national brands. Besides this, businesses need to build a strategic direction to promote the strength of national brands methodically, especially in the digital age. They also need to prioritise investment in scientific and technological development,” Phu added.

New habits in health retail

Vietnam’s modern health and beauty retail sphere continues to gain traction as players are mulling over expansion plans.

FPT Retail plans to expand its Long Chau Pharmacy chain from 200 to 350 outlets in 2021. The group expects to account for 30 per cent of the local pharmacy retail market in the next two years, contributing to 25 per cent of its total revenue worth $217.16 million.

A representative of FPT Retail said that the company will develop its logistics capabilities and workforce to reach this target. The retailer has also started to pilot its FBeauty chain, selling cosmetics and functional foods to capitalise on the market potential.

Meanwhile, Pharmacity plans to double its network to more than 1,000 stores across the nation this year. Apart from drugs, Pharmacity also sells cosmetics, beverages, and toothpaste, among others.

According to Pharmacity founder Chris Blank, the retailer has taken advantage of the downturn during the pandemic to scoop up prime real estate at a discount.

“When everybody was closing stores, we were land-grabbing,” he said in an interview with Nikkei Asia.

Looking to the company’s next 500 stores, he added, “The future is definitely sunny in this business.”

Indeed, other foreign giants such as Japan’s Matsumotokiyoshi and Hong Kong’s Watsons have also realised the market potential and made forays into Vietnam’s fast-growing market in the last couple of years.

The expansion of health and beauty players is in contrast with other traditional retailers who have scaled down due to the pandemic. According to global market research firm Euromonitor International, in order to take advantage of an ongoing rise in consumer health-awareness, chained health and beauty specialist retailers’ brands are making significant efforts to expand their store networks.

Medicare and Guardian are among the expanding chains in drugstores/parapharmacies, while chemists and pharmacies are seeing gradual consolidation driven by the rise of chains such as Phano, Pharmacity, and Phuc An Khang.

Euromonitor estimated Vietnam’s health and beauty retail market to reach $11.59 billion in 2021, of which chemists/pharmacies will contribute $9.27 billion. By 2025, the market will reach $14.42 billion, up 24 per cent against 2021.

Phong Quach, head of Consulting at Ipsos Strategy3 Vietnam, pointed out that Guardian has nearly doubled its stores in Vietnam since 2019 and while Pharmacity only had six stores in January 2017, it is now planning to operate 1,000 stores in 2021. These two are examples of aggressive expansion plans to capture the growing demand for health and beauty products, and medicine, especially in major urban areas and key cities in Vietnam. The retailers will continue to expand while adapting to new shopping behaviours and the changing landscape in Vietnam.

“One of the key trends is multi-format expansion. This is a strategy that Guardian understands well in Malaysia where growth is not only about street outlets but also leverage on shopping malls and e-commerce,” Euromonitor noted.

Another trend is health and beauty product delivery service from outlets. With the acceleration of COVID-19 and the growth of delivery service in Vietnam, providing the convenience for Vietnamese consumers which is also critical for chain players, it can be expected that the player with successful network and branding will also think about adding this service where the delivery can be made quickly from a store that is near to the consumer, according to the expert.

Trang Ngo, head of Healthcare at Ipsos Vietnam, highlighted that players will focus on creating seamless customer experience across channels. With the pandemic amplifying the omnichannel strategy, making sure that key elements such as convenience can be part of customer experiences across channels, will be a big challenge for retailers.

Based on an Ipsos global survey with 12,000 online shoppers, “delivery delays” and “items out of stock” are key pain points for them with 25 and 16 per cent, respectively, followed by 14 per cent of “too many promotional emails”, so retailers will need to deal with different problems arising from different channels which make customer experience complicated to streamline. Last year in Vietnam, the survey showed that more consumers purchased online for health and beauty products and it has become a new shopping habit, and a new challenge for retailers.

According to Richard Burrage, managing partner of Cimigo, the expansion of modern pharmacy chain outlets in Vietnam in the past few years is accelerating and exciting to overserve. Modern pharmacy retail requires scale as margins are very low, hence it needs rapid acceleration to reach that scale. Vietnam is expected to see increasing expansion beyond pharmaceuticals to own brands of Asian remedies, nutraceutical, and personal care to increase the “basket size” with higher margins from own label products.

However, he noted that modern pharmacies organise a very disorganised category, bringing increased transparency and trust in the medicines sold and the ability to trace those medicines to their origin and ensure they are true and not expired.

Meanwhile, experts from Ipsos Vietnam agree that for health and beauty, imported products or those produced in Vietnam by foreign companies hold most of the market share, so both local and foreign retail players have to demonstrate the ability to understand the relevant brands and products for each segment, and market and distribute items properly. Foreign players such as Guardian have certain advantages and experiences from Malaysia and Singapore regarding their portfolio and how to introduce it to consumers.

“However, one key global trend is ‘supporting locally made products’ because of COVID-19 impacts, where Vietnamese consumers will prefer a Vietnamese brand,” the experts said. “This is a trend relevant to both local and foreign retailers whether they want to source for more local brands or to locally produce. However, both foreign and local players have their own difficulties. Vietnamese brands from top local companies are still struggling and it will not be easy for foreign players to find capable local partners to source from.”

Firms bemoan regulations over professional degrees for foreign bosses

During a conference held by the HCMC Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs on April 20, many firms expressed their concern over a new rule that requires foreign bosses to have professional degrees or diplomas, stating that not all chief executive officers at firms hold professional degrees corresponding to their positions.

Decree 152 on overseas labor recruitment and management, which took effect from February 15, replaced Decree 11 issued in 2016, featuring some new changes, including requirements on degrees that were said to make life harder for the enterprise community.

The new decree requires that foreign experts entering Vietnam for work must meet new standards, including holding a college degree and having at least three years of experience in their majors associated with their positions in Vietnam.

Speaking at the meeting, a representative of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam said that in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, not all experienced foreign workers have degrees or diplomas that are suitable to jobs in Vietnam.

As such, firms would face multiple difficulties in recruitment due to the requirement, coupled with the rule requiring at least five years of work experience in foreign countries, the local media reported.

Some human resources staffers in foreign firms have been facing obstacles in completing procedures to apply for new labor permits for foreign executives.

A representative of a Japanese firm said that some foreign staffers holding key positions at the firm had worked in Vietnam for 30 years, but their labor permits were to expire while the firm did not know how to handle the case as it was hard to prove their work experience in foreign countries.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (AmCham) also said that the chamber was shocked at the new regulations.

The decree requires that executives must hold degrees corresponding to their positions, but it is hard to show a specialized degree for a certain job as there are numerous interconnections in professions, a representative of AmCham said.

AmCham also suggested allowing using work experience in Vietnam to apply for labor permits rather than overseas working experience, making life easier for firms, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Besides, AmCham also expected procedures for issuing new labor permits to foreign workers to be simplified.

Ministries cook up solutions to curb wild land hikes

The ministries of natural resources and environment along with construction, as well as local authorities, are setting up solutions to halt the ramped-up hikes in land price nationwide.

One of the top proposals involves fines for circulating fake or inaccurate news in the market. There are currently regulations on forcing such fines on speculation activities in Article 196 of the 2015 Criminal Code, but a more detailed guideline must be mapped to help local authorities ensure better implementation, the ministries say.

Another solution is to limit speculation in the market. Proposals are to increase the transference taxation in the first 2-3 years after an asset was transferred. Also, additional taxation is suggested to impose on the second asset and more of every owner and land plot left unused over a certain period of time.

Commercial banks under the instruction of the State Bank of Vietnam are to set up special solutions to provide loans in the context of land fever. Bankers must carefully consider and approve loans in projects with enough dossiers only. Hospitality and high-end residences are the segments deemed to require careful actions by bankers.

Last but not least, local authorities are requested to have more transparent use of information. Every local authority must publicise their land-use plan every year in order to reduce rumours and false news. Information databases on land and homes must be digitalised to give easier access to local people and buyers.

At the end of March, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) requested local provinces to send a report on land fever in their localities to the ministry before May 31. Those figures from local authorities will be combined to set up a database system to serve for following guidelines in the future.

The MoNRE has requested local authorities to enhance their management on the real estate market, especially for future property under the construction stage.

“Local authorities must review all projects and ensure that property on sale must have the correct permission. All transaction activities also must be approved by the competent bodies,” read a document from the MoNRE.

Especially, individual brokerage activities must be strictly managed because a major reason for the increasing price of land plots in localities comes from individual and private brokers.

Local authorities were also assigned to officially declare all zoning plans of the locality in local People’s Committee offices, to avoid being utilised by inaccurate news on real estate construction.

The MoNRE has further requested local authorities to focus on land plot management in the context of price hikes continuing in recent months. Many investors had bought agricultural land areas, divided them into small land plots, and then put the plots on sale with prices increasing many times over. This activity, while illegal, continues to trap buyers.

Along with this, local authorities are requested to create more land fund for residential development by putting land up for auction.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Construction (MoC) was also assigned by the government to review the new land lease price framework implementation.

After the government issued Decree No.96/2019/ND-CP at the end of 2019 on the land price framework, local people’s committees issued a price range to apply to the period of 2020-2024.

Accordingly, the land price issued by localities has an average increase of about 15-20 per cent compared to the land price list five years ago.

According to a report from the MoC, in 2020 and the first three months of 2021, real estate prices increased from 10 to 30 per cent compared to the beginning of 2020. On the black market, price of land plots transferred by individuals and private brokers increased from 50 to 100 per cent, depending on the locality.

Improving status of Vietnamese agricultural products

Vietnamese agricultural products have been affirming their status in markets with high quality requirements such as the EU, the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

However, the agricultural sector should develop methodical steps and specific roadmaps to reach the export target of US$42 billion in 2021 and move towards the greater goals of increasing the export value of agricultural products to US$50-51 billion by 2025 and US$60-62 billion by 2030 as well as continuing to improve the position of Vietnamese agricultural products in the international market.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD), the export value of agricultural products reached US$10.61 billion in the first quarter of this year, up 19.7% over the same period last year. Notably, the volume of agricultural products exported to markets with high potential increased sharply, including 45.8% to the US market, 39.5% to China, 9.5% to the ROK and 3.4% to Japan.

Director of the Department of Agro-Processing and Market Development Nguyen Quoc Toan said Vietnam's agricultural exports are on the right track by focusing on improving quality and looking into market segments with high potential to raise export value. However, it is crucial to have more specific steps and roadmaps to take advantage of the economic benefits worthy of the inherent potential of Vietnamese agricultural products.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Ha Cong Tuan said Vietnamese agricultural products should be exported to many major markets with remote geographical conditions and high requirements of quality. Therefore, enterprises need to focus on developing modern and efficient preservation and processing technologies according to standards from large import markets. In addition, it is essential to form a sustainable market block in many countries, avoiding heavy dependence on traditional markets.

Sharing the same viewpoint that processing is a key issue in enhancing the value of Vietnamese agricultural products in the international market, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Intimex Group, Do Ha Nam, noted that Intimex has constructed an instant coffee factory and focused on coffee processing to improve its value. The factory is operating at 70% capacity, producing 200 tonnes of finished product per month. With the production technology connected to modern information technology, its import partners can monitor the products’ quality remotely.

In addition to the application of technology and investment in deep processing and the preservation of products, many agricultural experts say that in the current context of economic integration, enterprises and producers also need to proactively access information and requirements of markets, take advantage of new generation free trade agreements to expand their market.

General Director of Vina T&T Import Export Services Co., Ltd Nguyen Dinh Tung proposed the State should support enterprises in trade promotion and the development of quality standards according to the criteria of the import market, especially exports of orders under new-generation free trade agreements. For production, regional planning and construction of standard raw material areas are key issues for the export of Vietnamese agricultural products.

Deputy Minister Ha Cong Tuan said that in order to help Vietnamese agricultural products maximise their economic profit and match their export potential as well as effectively implement the Project on enhancing the competitiveness of Vietnam's export products until 2025, with a vision to 2030, the MoARD will coordinate with ministries and agencies to review and perfect institutions and policies as well as simplify procedures related to the export of agricultural products and regulations on quarantine, food safety and customs procedures.

In the immediate future, the Ministry will give priority to supporting the development of the value chains of exported agro-forestry-fishery products; boosting measures to encourage investment in processing and preservation in association with the consumption market; assisting enterprises in establishing and protecting their intellectual property rights in export markets ; and conducting activities to promote the image and brand of their products via media both within the country and abroad.

In fact, production is still a key decisive stage. According to Director of the Bac Giang provincial Agriculture and Rural Development. Duong Thanh Tung, the province will reorganise production based on its comparative advantages and focus on the development of high-quality products; developing businesses in agriculture as well as enhancing connections among farmers, state agencies, enterprises, banks, scientists and coordinators with the core of the linkage between farmers and enterprises.

In addition, support is needed for businesses to apply the Good Aquaculture Practices (GAP), traceability and an advanced quality management system in processing to strengthen the quality management of products in all stages, from farming to cultivation, transport, processing and exports.

In this regard, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade (MoIT) Tran Quoc Khanh said that in order to support businesses to boost their exports, the MoIT will coordinate with the MoARD to develop a plan for negotiations on the market opening, remove trade barriers and settle international disputes. The ministries will host and cooperate with relevant agencies and enterprises to conduct research activities and market forecasts as well as assessing the competitiveness of the key agro-forestry-fishery products of Vietnam in the world market.

M&A appetite robust in textile and garment sector

Vietnamese textile and garment firms struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic are becoming potential targets for mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, general secretary of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association, said that foreign investors are purchasing shares and making capital contributions into Vietnamese textile companies to capitalise on the global textile and garment market. Given the impact of COVID-19 and their long-standing weaknesses, several Vietnamese textile enterprises are struggling, setting them up as potential M&A targets.

At present, Vietnam is home to 7,000 textile and garment companies. Over 80 per cent of whom are small- and medium-sized enterprises limited by a lack of capital, technology, skilled workforce and good governance. Meanwhile, foreign-invested companies are equipped with modern technology, experts, strong financial capability, and have a stable market for their projects.

Meanwhile, Vu Kim Hanh, chairwoman of the Vietnam High-Quality Goods Association said that Vietnamese textile and garment firms have yet to catch up with the digitalisation trend. Many are confused about digital marketing and online sale. Due to their small scale, local firms cannot fulfil large orders. They remain weak in design and branding, making it difficult to increase added value and raise the competitiveness in the market.

She expected that the participation of strategic investors via M&A will help Vietnamese firms address the challenges and scale up in the future.

E-Land, Korea's first and largest integrated fashion and retail company, has been a strategic partner of Thanh Cong Textile Garment Investment Trading JSC for over the past 10 years by holding a 30 per cent stake at the local firm.

E-Land has steadily increased its ownership to 43.26 per cent to become the largest foreign strategic investor in Thanh Cong Textile, making significant contributions to improving corporate restructuring and governance. Thanh Cong Textile has seen its after-tax profit growing six-fold since E-Land’s investment.

In 2018, Japanese trading house Itochu has increased its stakes in Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group (Vinatex) to nearly 15 per cent by investing $46.9 million with an aim to turn the country into a textile export hub for Europe. Itochu is now the second-largest stakeholder in Vinatex after the Vietnamese government.

Itochu exports a little over ¥60 billion ($553 million) worth of apparel from Vietnam a year, half of which is produced by Vinatex. The company aims to raise outsourced production and exports to ¥100 billion ($922 million) by 2021.

The outlook for Vietnam’s textile and garment exports is brighter in 2021 as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement has taken effect. There is also a higher demand for "Made in Vietnam" fabrics as big brands are increasingly sourcing fabrics from Vietnam than China. The fabric prices are steadily increasing this year, improving the profit margins of local firms.

In the past two years, there have not been so many M&A deals in the textile and garment industry. The majority of buyers scooped up around 10-15 per cent stake in Vietnamese companies as an investment rather than holding a controlling stake.

Promoting export of building materials and furniture to Australia

The Vietnam Trade Office in Australia is calling on enterprises to boost the export of construction materials, decorations, and furniture to the Australian market amid the boom in construction materials in the country.
The Vietnam Trade Office in Australia said that Australia’s construction and materials market is booming following the government’s economic recovery plan.

The seasonally adjusted total for housing units increased by 18.6% to 51,055 while newly built private housing projects rose by 26.6% to 33,761 and other private housing projects climbed 4.1% to 16,049. The total value of completed housing works increased by 0.1% to AUD29.4 billion (over US$22.7 billion).

In the context that Australians are rushing to buy houses, activities related to home repair and decoration are also forecast to continue to soar in the future.

As a result, the export revenue of related products from Vietnam to Australia saw strong growth including wood and wood products (up 34.4%), electric wire and cable (up 207.9%), products made from iron and steel (up 12.15%), iron and steel (up 78.14%), ceramics (up 37.96%), and others.

The Vietnam Trade Office in Australia will continue with the organisation of an online international trade fair on Vietnamese goods sources with a focus on construction materials and home decoration in Australia in 2021.

In addition, through the Viet-Aus trade app, the Vietnam Trade Office in Australia also provides database on importers, information on trade exchanges, tax lines, import conditions as well as space for Vietnamese enterprises in the field to advertise themselves.

South Korean investors back from recess

The South Korean investment landscape in Vietnam is brightening up, following new investments worth billions of dollars, with SK and Hanwha pouring a great deal into their projects.
 
SK Group will lead a South Korean business delegation, including all leading companies in various sectors looking to invest and expand, to Vietnam next month. Senior managers of SK Group, the third-largest conglomerate in South Korea, will visit leading counterparts in Vietnam such as Vingroup and Masan Group to discuss the expansion and development of investment plans in more promising fields like ICT, bio-healthcare, energy, and the environment.

“Seeing the potential of Vietnam for upcoming investment and cooperation plans, SK Group will strengthen direct investment projects, in addition to acquisitions and indirect investments already carried out,” an expert from the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) in Vietnam told VIR.

In early April, SK acquired 16.26 per cent in VinCommerce, one of Masan Group’s subsidiaries, for a cash consideration of $410 million.

Two years ago, SK Group carried out indirect investment into VinCommerce via a 6.1 per cent stake of Vingroup, owner at the time, valued at $1 billion. It also took 9.5 per cent stake in Masan Group valued at $470 million, as well as around $29 million for a 24.9 per cent stake in local pharmaceutical firm Imexpharm. Total investment of SK Group in Vietnam is estimated at $2 billion.

Moreover, SK Group worked out a deal with Petrolimex, poured money into the Long Son petrochemical project in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, provided telecoms solutions for MobiFone, and invested millions of US dollars to develop innovation activities in Vietnam.

Also strengthening its footprint in the country, senior leaders of Hanwha Energy will arrive in Vietnam to discuss and sign cooperation agreements of investments valued at $500 million and $300 million. The investor also would like to accelerate the Hai Lang liquefied natural gas project in the central province of Quang Tri, developed in collaboration with local partner T&T Group and other South Korean groups with investment sitting at $2 billion.

Additionally, real estate and infrastructure are also promising lands for South Korean investors. Land & Housing Corporation, along with Korea Overseas Infrastructure & Urban Development Corporation, will arrive in the country to push forward a $1.5-billion Vietnam-South Korea Industrial Zone project in the northern province of Hung Yen and consider other real estate projects nearby; while Almus – a tier-1 supplier for tech giant Samsung – is looking for the chance to develop an additional factory valued at tens of millions of dollars.

“This is not the first special visit of foreign investors into Vietnam over the last year. These visits carry numerous hopes, plans, and billion-dollar contracts for Vietnam despite travel interruptions hit by the pandemic, and they reflect the attraction of Vietnam for foreign investors and South Korean ones in particular,” the KCCI expert said.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Business in Vietnam Kim Heung-Soo said that the efforts of the Vietnamese government in fighting against the pandemic, as well as improving the investment and business climate, have been highlighted by South Korean investors.

“Manufacturing will be the most attractive industry for South Korean businesses to invest in Vietnam. If manufacturing gains more priority than the services sector, it will significantly contribute to accelerating the speed and quality of the country’s growth, as well as lure more foreign investors into Vietnam,” Soo said.

Accumulating to the end of March, South Korea is the top investor in Vietnam with over 9,000 valid projects registered at $71.5 billion, making up 18.2 per cent of total foreign direct investment into Vietnam. In the first quarter alone, South Korea ranked third following Singapore and Japan of leading foreign investors in Vietnam, with nearly $1.2 billion into 324 projects and other deals.

Source: VNA/VNS/VOV/VIR/SGT/Nhan Dan/Hanoitimes   

 
 

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