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Apr 29 2012

Vietnam’s Habubank to pursue merger as bad debts mount

vietnam%e2%80%99s habubank to pursue merger as bad debts mount

Shareholders of Habubank have voted to merged the troubled lender with Saigon-Hanoi Commercial Joint Stock Bank after its bad debt ratio shot up to 16 percent.

“Bad debts at Habubank reached 16.06 percent of total loans at the end of February, according to Vietnamese standards. But if all the risks are taken into consideration, the ratio was actually 32.06 percent,” Habubank General Director Bui Thi Mai said at an annual meeting Saturday, news website VnExpress reported.

Habubank’s officials said the bad debts included a VND3 trillion (US$144 million) loan to state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin, which almost collapsed in 2010 with huge debts. The loan is unlikely to be collected, they said.

Mai said the asset quality of the bank has deteriorated since 2011, mainly due to the large loan to Vinashin.

Net profits of Habubank, or Hanoi Building Commercial Joint-Stock Bank, last year fell to VND328.95 billion from VND482.02 billion in 2010, the Thoi Bao Kinh Te Vietnam newspaper reported earlier this month.

The bank planned to either raise its capital or merge with another lender to overcome its difficulties. Shareholders at the meeting voted for the merger option.

The merger will create a large and highly competitive financial institution, Mai said, adding that shareholders of the two banks will receive dividends in the next two or three years.

Reuters earlier this month cited an official of the bank as saying that if the merger takes place, the Habubank brand will cease to exist. Its shares will be converted into shares of SHB, or Saigon-Hanoi Commercial Joint Stock Bank, the unidentified official said.

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Apr 29 2012

Vietnam coal producer Vinacomin disapproves of Moody’s downgrade

vietnam coal producer vinacomin disapproves of moody%e2%80%99s downgrade

State-owned coal and mining group Vinacomin said ratings agency Moody’s was wrong in changing the outlook for the company from stable to negative, arguing that it posted higher profits last year compared to 2010.

Vinacomin will release its official financial report in May and will request the ratings agency to revise its assessment, news website VnExpress reported Saturday, citing an unidentifed official of the coal producer.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the outlook for Vinacomin, or Vietnam National Coal Minerals Industries Holding Corporation, to negative on Friday.

“The negative outlook reflects Vinacomin’s high level of debt-funded capex (capital expenditure) and the high domestic interest rate environment, which is expected to weaken its EBIT/interest expense to below 2x over the next 12-18 months, thereby exerting pressure on Vinacomin’s liquidity,” said Simon Wong, a Moody’s Vice President and Senior Analyst.

According to the ratings agency, a significant increase in domestic interest rates during 2011 caused the EBIT/interest expense ratio to decline sharply. The ratio, also known as the interest coverage, is measured by comparing the earnings before interest and taxes of a company with its interest expense. The higher the ratio, the stronger the company and its creditworthiness are likely to be.

Moody’s said the outlook for Vinacomin could be changed to stable if the interest coverage ratio exceeds 2.5- 2.75 on a sustained basis.

Vinacomin, however, argued that its earning over interest expense was actually 4.81 at the end of last year, which means it deserves a “stable” outlook.

Vietnam’s largest coal producer also said the forecast that its interest coverage would be low over the next 12-18 months was not reliable either. “Interest rates are falling and an anticipated increase in coal prices for the electricity sector will ensure profits for Vinacomin,” the unidentified source told VnExpress, adding that 2011 profits were higher than the previous year.

According to Moody’s, Vinacomin accounts for over 95 percent of total coal production in Vietnam. The company is also engaged in power generation, mineral exploration and smelting, and other operations related to coal and minerals business.

The agency warned that the miner will continue to face pressure from rising production costs, limitations to its ability to raise prices and a decline in exports due to high domestic demand.

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Apr 29 2012

Vietnamese telecom firms do not need foreign investors to develop: official

vietnamese telecom firms do not need foreign investors to develop official

Foreign investors leaving the telecom market should not be seen as a problem for Vietnam as local companies are strong enough in terms of capital and technology, says Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang.

There are many reasons why a company decides to divest from a market and it is not an unsual business move, Thang was quoted as saying by the Dau Tu (Investment) newspaper.

“SK Telecom withdrawing from S-Fone, VimpelCom withdrawing from Beeline, or other similar cases are normal,” he said, noting that such moves “would not affect Vietnam’s investment environment or cause worries for new investors.”

Thang said the telecom market has changed, with local companies growing stronger without having to depend on foreign investment.

“It is not that a Vietnamese company can only succeed if it has a foreign partner,” he said.

Russia’s VimpelCom last week said it will sell its entire 49 percent stake in GTEL Mobile, the operator of Beeline mobile network in Vietnam. The Beeline trademark will also be taken back by the Russian telecom giant after six months.

Jo Lunder, Chief Executive Officer of VimpelCom, said the decision to dispose the company’s interest in GTEL Mobile is part of a plan to allocate capital to markets with “the best opportunities to generate shareholder value.”

Beeline, which launched its service in Vietnam in July 2007, is a small telecom company in a market dominated by three state-owned operators, VinaPhone, MobiFone and Viettel. It only had a market share of 0.17 percent at the end of last year, Dau Tu reported, citing official statistics.

S-Fone, the second smallest network, had a share of 0.53 percent. It was formed by South Korea’s SK Telecom and Ho Chi Minh City-based Saigon Postel in 2001, but the former withdrew in 2010.

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Apr 29 2012

A poetic retreat in Nha Trang

a poetic retreat in nha trang

The rain clouds came in low and slow, like a blanket over our heads, turning the beach town of Nha Trang into a subdued shade of gray.

We decided to get out of town a bit and see what the countryside had to offer on a relatively gloomy evening.

We hoped we weren’t going to get caught in the rain, but if we did, it would be no problem.

We took off on our motorbikes for Nam Son Quan, which local friends had told us serves incredible and authentic Nha Trang hometown cuisine.

Just pulling on to the road leading to the restaurant lets you know that you’re going somewhere special.

The road was very bumpy, narrow and sometimes muddy with large puddles of water forcing us to veer this way and that.

It was only 8pm, but local people were at home asleep early. The only noise that broke the darkness of village life was from our motorbikes.
After around 20 minutes, we reached  a coconut garden on the bank of Cai river. In the middle of orchard was Nam Son, nestled among the trees.

Under the mysterious veil created by the rain and its fog, the river looked bigger and its sound endless. I was taken aback by the poetic landscape.
In the darkness, the fog hid the village on the opposite bank of the river and we could see the blue mountain ranges west of Nha Trang in the distance.

The place reminded me of Ba Be Lake, one of Vietnam’s largest lakes, which sits in the high mountains near the northern border with China. 
Nearby are lanterns over a small bridge across the river. The scene is reminiscent of Hoan Kiem lake and The Huc bridge. With the fresh rain comes the cold, and for a moment it is like winter in Hanoi.
The menu offers countryside dishes including seafood, river specialties, and local vegetables. 

Ms. Thuy, the restaurant’s owner, said grilled frog with chili and salt, and Ca Ro (a river and green field fish) served with fish sauce mixed with tamarind, were two of Nam Son’s most special dishes.

She also said other river fish, snails and oyster dishes were favorites.

We were just in the mood to order something very light and tea. We had a vegetarian in our group, so we ordered a special soup for him with mushroom, tomato, pine apple, tofu and some other vegetable (VND120,000).

We also ordered Ca Keo (roasted Keo fish-VND75,000), morning glory stirred with garlic (VND35,000), and some steamed rice.

The roasted fish was good, especially in the cold and rainy weather. The vegetarian soup was fresh but very spicy.

Other great dishes included Ga nuong lu (chicken roasted in a big clay jar), and goi tom dat kieu Thai (Thai style shrimp salad).

Apr 28 2012

Vietnam advised to refrain from fiscal easing

vietnam advised to refrain from fiscal easing

The International Monetary Fund has warned Vietnamese policymakers against easing fiscal policies too soon, saying they need to be cautious in order to maintain economic stability.

The measures taken by the government to stabilize the economy have begun to show their effects, with public investment and fiscal deficit being cut back, the IMF was cited as saying in a report published by the State Bank of Vietnam. The fund advised the government to continue rebuilding market confidence with monetary policies.

According to the IMF, the central bank has made a highly appreciated move by putting weak banks under its surveillance. However, the fund said it will take a lot of time to deal with the risks posed to the financial system by these weak banks and to improve their management capacities.

Vietnam’s economic growth is expected to slow to under 6 percent this year but inflation will be in single digits, the IMF said.

Masahiko Takeda, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department, told a press briefing last week that while some progress has been made, with the exchange rate being stable and inflation coming down, “there’s a way to go.”

“And in particular, the central bank needs to be cautiously moving forward,” he said. “Since inflation has been coming down, there’s room for monetary easing or cutting interest rates, but if interest rates are cut too fast, then that can introduce, again, instability and loss of confidence. So, that’s the most important thing.”

The central bank reduced its policy rates by one percentage point earlier this month, the second cut within a month.

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Apr 28 2012

More projects started amidst efforts to cut public investment

more projects started amidst efforts to cut public investment

Vietnam started construction on 14,000 new public projects last year, despite the government’s plan to cut back on investment, official statistics show.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment said the new projects, with a combined investment of VND400 trillion (US$19.2 billion), accounted for 36.8 percent of the total number of public projects in the country.

According to the ministry, 4,436 public projects were behind schedule. That represented 11.55 percent of the total number, up from 9.78 percent in 2010.

A ministry official who did not want to be named said the delays have made these projects less effective. The main reasons for the delays included prolonged land clearance process, late capital disbursement and weaknesses of contractors, he added.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has also said 145 public projects were found mismanaging state funds.

Economist Le Dang Doanh said the number, a mere 0.38 percent of all public projects in Vietnam, does not reflect the truth.

It was only a miniscule part of the real figures, he said. “The ministry did not conduct any inspection or assessment. Instead it only sat there and compiled data submitted to it, leaving a large number of projects untouched.”

The Ministry of Planning and Investment last year annouced a goal to slash 10 percent, or VND97 trillion ($4.7 billion), of development investment in 2011. But Doanh said efforts taken to cut public investment have not been not effective.

Planning and Investment Minister Bui Quang Vinh admitted that each city and province is responsible for reporting the status of projects in their localities to the ministry.

The problem is these reports are incomplete, covering only around 68 percent of all projects, Vinh said.

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Apr 27 2012

Hue hotel serves home-grown menus

hue hotel serves home grown menus

La Residence Hotel and Spa in Hue, the UNESCO heritage town in central Vietnam, is serving dishes with fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables from the resort’s riverside gardens.

Set in a 1930s art-deco mansion in Vietnam’s former Imperial City, La Residence is cutting its carbon footprint and catering to guests’ tastes by using grown in-house on a 260 square-meter plot facing the Perfume River.

The garden was planted in January 2012 with ten kinds of vegetables, 18 herbs and roots, including galangal, pandanus and sweet potato. And the orchard with eight types of tropical fruit-bearing trees is expected to yield their first harvest in 18 months.

The trees and vegetables are tended by a local gardener and protected under sunshade netting and a built-in sprinkler system until picked for preparation.

General Manager Anthony Gill says La Residence has plans to host a cooking class and chef’s table amid the greenery once the garden and orchard are fully set up.

Apr 27 2012

Sweets in the city

sweets in the city

Ho Chi Minh City has everything you need to rot your teeth, fatten your gut and make you feel warm and fuzzy all over

I have been cursed with a sweet tooth my entire life – that is eight cavities and two root canals in 29 years. I hoped, when I moved here, that all of my sweet eating would stop or at least slow.

But Ho Chi Minh City offered more sweet junk than any town I have ever lived in. And the offerings are getting better every day. For those of you who grew up in the States and miss your mom’s cookies, consider this a guide to some of the town’s best comfort food. For those of you who grew up elsewhere, but can eat a box of cream puffs for breakfast and feel no remorse (VND100,000 at Chewy Junior 34 Tran Hung Dao Street, District 1), consider this your guide to an early onset of diabetes:

A fleeting donut

Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants own all of California’s best donut shops. And yet, bakeries in Southeast Asia fall short. Last summer, a wholly-Vietnamese shop called Fresh Donuts began making them the way Uncle Sam intended – cake rings covered in a firm frosting shell. The manager attributes the quality of their product to imported American flour, which they will stop getting (due to an inexplicable hiccup in the supply chain) some time next week. The clock is ticking.

Address: 33 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1. VND17,000.

Durian for dummies

If you do not understand durian yet, you need to get yourself to the Golden Elephant. The fruit itself is the best dessert on earth – proof that someone up there loves us and wants us to be happy. But for all you clueless whiners out there, this Thai restaurant serves a tiny slice of God’s custard with sweet coconut milk and salty sticky rice. If you don’t like
that, you are not getting in to heaven.

Address: 34 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1. VND50,000.

The late breakfast

Last month, a bad case of hypertension kept Thanh home for nearly two weeks reducing
her popular sidewalk chè spot to a barren green wall. She has recovered and now shows up to work at around 2 p.m. From then on, Thanh slings bowls and bags of cow bean sticky rice, hot tapioca soup, corn porridge, and green bean goo until there is nothing left in her pots – and there never is.

Address: Corner of Cong Quynh and Cao Ba Nha streets, District 1. VND5,000 per bowl.

Dessert for the dead

Most Central and Southern Vietnamese families place bánh ít (banana leaf-wrapped sticky rice pyramids stuffed with beans or fruit) on the altar during the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Evidently, these are a hot ticket in the spirit world. But
I am already a fan. Thankfully, a family of hủ tiếu vendors cranks out bright purple bánh ít for 25 cents a pop. Their best rendition contains a pungent paste of dried coconut, durian and chopped peanuts. Please remember to put a few out for me when I’m gone.

Address: 16B Street 762 (essentially an alley that begins at 762), Hong Bang Street, District 6. VND5,000 apiece.

Pumpkin pie redux

Traffic hits a wild bottleneck around the intersection of Nguyen Trai and Chau Van Liem. Every night, the corners overflow with waiters carrying blazing hotpots and plates of chicken rice into packed restaurants. A few steps away from all this madness, hidden behind a phalanx of dour condom vendors, sits Coconut and Pumpkin. This clean quiet shop sells a huge range of cool, tasty desserts, everything from custard-stuffed crullers to jellied coconuts. On a hot night, consider going out for a wedge of flan-filled bí đỏ (pumpkin squash) – a cool, sub-tropical riff on the heavy Thanksgiving Day pie.

Address: 85 Chau Van Liem Street, District 5. VND100,000 per kilogram.

The cupcake I hate to love

Up until a few years ago, cupcakes were considered the most banal and wholesome of America’s dessert items. Then Sex and the City hijacked the innocent cakes and turned them into its calling cards for vapid promiscuity and conspicuous consumerism. Eight years after the show stopped airing, a pair of bored rich ladies opened Cakewalk, a boutique “cupcakery” in downtown HCMC. Their logo is a high-heeled shoe with cake in it. It hurts that their PBJ (vanilla cake filled with real strawberry jam and topped with peanut buttercream) tastes so good. But it does.

Address: 84 Nguyen Cong Tru Street, District 1. VND50,000.

The cupcake I love to love

Barbara Kuehne, a Vietnamese-American mom who grew up in North Carolina, has been baking cupcakes in her HCMC kitchen for the past two years. You have probably seen them on sale at L’Usine Café. Kuehne recently opened the Sweet + Sour Bakery on the ground floor of her ritzy apartment in Thao Dien. Soon, her cupcakes will invade the shelves of Coffee Bean Tea Leaf. Eventually, I suspect, they will take over the world. Which is fine by me. Because everyone deserves a taste of her cinnamon butter cream frosted banana bread cupcake before they commence an eternity of bánh ít.

Address: Ground floor of AVA Residence 40/4 Nguyen Van Huong Street, District 2. VND50,000.

Tofu me? Tofu you!

If you find yourself driving around Ho Chi Minh City sweaty and aggravated, pull over at Banh Canh Trang Bang Hoang Ty. Ignore everything about this restaurant – a hot, crowded pork roll place that stinks of mắm nêm. Flip to the back of the menu and point to the picture of chè khúc bạch, a chilled cup containing buttery cubes of “cheese tofu” (they allegedly contain heavy cream), preserved longans, slivered almonds and a few hunks of ice. This thing will make you feel ten degrees cooler and, somehow, lighter.

Address: 70-72 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3. VND28,000.

Apr 27 2012

Hue Festival welcomes 2 mln people

hue festival welcomes 2 mln people

The 9-day Hue Festival 2012 attracted more than two million visitors (based on ticket sales) a provincial official said at a press conference held earlier this week.

Ngo Hoa, vice chairman in the central province of Thua Thien – Hue, told the press on April 16 that among the two million of people that joined hundreds of activities during this year’s festival held in different locations in the province from April 7 – 15, nearly 190,000 were tourists, a 62 percent increase compared to the previous festival held in 2010.

Half the tourists were foreigners, a 54 percent increase over the previous edition of the festival held in 2010, he said, adding most of the foreign tourists were from Thailand, France, Germany and Australia.

This year’s festival also welcomed nearly 700 reporters from 124 local and international media companies, and featured 65 art troupes from 27 countries and territories worldwide.

World renowned pianist Artur Dutkiewicz, the Junusz Prusinowski Trio from Poland, Mosaic from Israel, Mexican guitarist Paco Renteria, and the Descendance band from Australia were among the international performers.

The 8th Hue Festival will open on April 12, 2014.

Apr 27 2012

Ha Long Bay a top tropical island paradise: CNN

ha long bay a top tropical island paradise cnn

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province has been listed among Asia’s top five tropical island paradises by CNN.

CNN listed Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay among Asia’s top five tropical island paradises this week.

CNN asked Herman Ho, managing director of Boat Asia 2012, Asia’s largest and longest running boat show, and Stuart McDonald, founder and editor
of, to give the lowdown on Southeast Asia’s most spectacular coastal spots.

According to McDonald, Ha Long Bay in northwestern Vietnam is one of the most stunning boating destinations
in the world.

“Comprising a vast coastal waterway of roughly 2,000 islands spread over an area of 1,500 square kilometers, carving out your own sailing space shouldn’t be too much of a problem. While tranquil waters year round make sure going for a swim is always a pleasure,” he said on the company’s site.

The limestone caves on Ha Long Bay’s bigger islands and the “incredible sunsets” meanwhile are two sights not to be missed, McDonald said.

The other four most spectacular coastal spots in Southeast Asia, according to the CNN article, are Indonesia’s Anambas islands, Thailand’s Koh Chang, Malaysia’s Langkawi Islands, and Thailand’s Similan Islands.

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