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Aug 29 2012

HSBC plan no indication of insurance market blues

hsbc plan no indication of insurance market blues

Vietnam still an attractive investment destination for foreign insurers

 
  A file photo of Bao Viet’s headquarters in Hanoi. HSBC said in a recent statement that it is reviewing its options for its 18 percent stake in Vietnam’s largest insurance company. Photo: Bloomberg

The fact that HSBC is considering selling its stake in Bao Viet Holdings does not reflect the status of the local life insurance market because its main motivation is to divest from non-core sectors, experts say.

Furthermore, the divestment, if it takes place, would not have a great impact on Vietnam’s leading insurer, because HSBC has not been a direct participant in Bao Viet’s main activity, they add.

HSBC said in a recent statement that it is reviewing its strategic options for its 18 percent stake in the local insurer. “No decision has been made as yet and HSBC will make a further statement if or when appropriate,” it said.

Phung Dac Loc, general secretary of the Association of Vietnamese Insurers, said the anticipated withdrawal was mainly premised on HSBC’s plan to divest from non-core business activities, and not because Vietnam’s life insurance market has become less attractive.

“Vietnam’s life insurance market is still profitable, as it can attract policy holders with high interest rates, (based on banks’ interest rates),” he said. “No country in the world has interest rates as high as in Vietnam.”

In addition, a combination of low insurance penetration – less than 1 percent in both the life and non-life insurance markets – and a growing middle class would make Vietnam attractive to insurance companies forced to look outside of their home markets for growth, he said.

Reuters reported last month that HSBC has been pulling back from unprofitable markets and businesses as part of a three-year recovery plan. It has already sold 28 businesses, taken 15,000 staff off its payroll and released about US$55 billion in risk-weighted assets under the plan.

Loc said the capital withdrawal will not seriously affect Bao Viet’s business, as the London-based bank has mainly helped it improve corporate management, not create new products or expand the market, which are the most important activities for an insurer.

“In fact, what a Vietnamese insurer wants to receive from its foreign partner is not capital, but experience. However, HSBC does not have much experience in the field,” he said. “Having an experienced foreign partner will be much better for Bao Viet Holdings.”

Echoing Loc, economist Bui Kien Thanh, former senior advisor of American International Group, AIG, said a partner that specializes in the insurance sector would be better for Bao Viet.

“Only an experienced international insurer with global operations can help Bao Viet win the fierce competition it is set to face with many foreign rivals in the domestic market,” he said.

Sumitomo Life is in talks to acquire the stake, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported July 19. HSBC bought 10 percent of Bao Viet in 2007 for $255 million. It increased that to 18 percent in a deal completed in January 2010. Unlisted Sumito Life is among Japan’s four biggest life insurance companies.

HSBC is expecting a hefty premium due to Bao Viet’s market position and the potential to raise the ownership level at a later stage. The bank expects a deal which could fetch about $400 million for the stake, Reuters quoted a source as saying.

Economist Thanh said Vietnam’s insurance market is developing and therefore attracting many foreign investors. Meanwhile, Bao Viet has a good market position, so HSBC might succeed in selling its stake at a price it expects.

Hanoi-headquartered Bao Viet had more than 5,200 employees, 30,000-plus consultants and more than 130 branches, according to a fact-sheet dated March 2011 posted on its web site.

Vietnam has 29 non-life insurers and 14 life insurers, according to an April report from insurance ratings agency A.M. Best. Total insurance revenue rose 21.6 percent to VND37.5 trillion ($1.8 billion) in 2011, according to statistics from the Association of Vietnamese Insurers.

Vietnam’s real GDP grew by 5.9 percent in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund. Its growth is forecast to ease a bit this year and then speed up again in 2013.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120817-HSBC-plan-no-indication-of-insurance-market-blues.aspx

Aug 29 2012

Consumers not the king in Vietnam’s fuel market

consumers not the king in vietnam%e2%80%99s fuel market

 
  A customer watches gas being filled at a gas station in Hanoi. Photo: Reuters

Vietnamese consumers no longer have to follow the news on fuel prices. Now they just know prices will rise whenever gas stations shut down or withhold sale.

Prior to the recent price hike on Monday, people had complained that many stations across the country refused to sell than more than two liters. Some of them even turned down clients completely or simply put out an “out of gas” notice.

Experts say the practice, in anticipation of a price increase, shows that the fuel market is in the hands of sellers and the government should not loosen reins on the market just yet.

Major fuel distributors have confirmed there was no disruption in the supply chain.

Petrolimex, which holds 60 percent of the market, said it had delivered sufficient amount of fuel to its agents.

Dang Vinh Sang, general director of Saigon Petro, said even after the Dung Quat refinery shut down due to technical faults, fuel supplies for the local market remained ample.

Gas stations were expecting a sharp price hike after global oil prices surged, so they tried to cut back on sales and hoard fuel, Sang said.

Vo Van Quyen, director of the Domestic Market Department at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, told Vietweek that fuel traders are required to stockpile 30 days worth of fuel beforehand and thus the temporary closure of Dung Quat should not be a problem.

Hoarders and speculators will be dealt with strictly, he said.

Prices of oil products on Monday were raised for the third time in less than a month. The most common grade of fuel in Vietnam, 92-RON gasoline, now retails at VND23,000 per liter, up 5 percent.

Immediately after the hike, the market went back to normal, with gas stations running smoothly as usual. Experts said that the development has exposed market management weaknesses and showed that traders can easily create pressure to raise prices.

They also suspected distributors worked together and announced the same price increases at nearly the same time, despite differences in input costs and inventories.

Vietnam has recently allowed distributors of petroleum products to raise selling prices without having to seek government approval whenever global oil prices increase. The policy aims to create a market-driven fuel sector, but experts say that may not happen anytime soon.

Ngo Tri Long, former deputy head of the Market and Price Research Institute, said as the market is still dominated by a few traders, the government should not give them complete pricing freedom.

It is necessary to require traders to disclose inventory levels and input costs to see whether they really face losses and need to increase prices, Long said.

Fuel traders had raised prices on July 20 and then on August 1.

Nguyen Manh Hung, chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transport Association, said since the first hike, gasoline prices have gone up 10 percent. With gas accounting for 40 percent of total costs, taxi companies will have no choice but to raise their fares.

Mai Linh and Vinasun, two major taxi operators, have increased rates by VND800-1,000 a kilometer.

Prior to Monday’s hike, economists had called for the government to cut import duties on fuel products so that traders could keep prices stable. The Finance Ministry, however, opted for a price hike, keeping the 12 percent import tariff on gasoline unchanged.

An expert who asked not to be named said once again, consumers are the ones who lose in the relationship between them, the state and businesses.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120817-Consumers-not-the-king-in-Vietnams-fuel-market.aspx

Aug 29 2012

Major Belgian chocolatier hits Vietnamese market

major belgian chocolatier hits vietnamese market


The Belgian chocolate manufacturer Callebaut has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with the United Vision Company of Ho Chi Minh City.

 

The century-old brand plans to supply its chocolate to confectioners, pastry chefs and chocolatiers throughout  Vietnam.

 

Callebaut Asia Pacific sales manager Roshin Perera told chefs at an August 15 launch party that the chocolate would be the “partner of choice” for chefs seeking world-class ingredients..

 

According to Perera, Callebaut has been making chocolate in the heart of Belgium for the past 100 years .

 

Callebaut was listed by Forbes as the world’s biggest chocolatier in 2005.

http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120820-Belgium-major-chocolatier-comes-to-Vietnam.aspx

Aug 29 2012

Vinpearl granted parts of Nha Trang Bay for tourism investment

vinpearl granted parts of nha trang bay for tourism investment

Authorities in the central province of Khanh Hoa have granted Vinpearl Joint Stock Company an area of nearly 1,500 hectares (3,706 acres) in the protected Nha Trang Bay for tourism investment, Tuoi Tre reported.

The involved area included more than 556 hectares of land and 926 hectares of bay, including the beaches and swamplands of Bai Ran, Bai Tre, Dam Bay, Vung Nga and Bich Dam on Hon Tre Island.

The grant came in response to a proposal made by the real estate and tourism investment company.

An official at the Nha Trang Bay management agency said that the land grant includes portions of Hon Tre’s east coast - which was designated level-1 protected land.

The designation requires authorities to keep the protected area intact, though they can approve construction in the areas in special cases.

A deputy director at the Khanh Hoa Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism said there has been no approved zoning plan for the area granted to Vinpearl.

In May, Khanh Hoa authorities appealed to the federal government to withdraw the protected land designation granted to Nha Trang Bay.

The provincial People’s Committee deputy chairman Nguyen Chien Thang said the locality has “tied its own hands” since the bay was granted the title because any activities involving the area must comply with the Cultural Heritage Law and Environmental Protection Law.

http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120821-Khanh-Hoa-grants-parts-of-the-protected-Nha-Trang-Bay-for-tourism-investment.aspx

Aug 28 2012

Private carriers manage to seize Vietnam Airlines’ market share

private carriers manage to seize vietnam airlines%e2%80%99 market share

Vietnam Airlines saw a 2.6 percentage point decline in its market share over a six-month period ending last May as two private airlines Air Mekong and VietJetAir vie to expand.

Vietnam Airlines’ domestic market share dropped from 77 percent in late 2011 to 74.4 percent in May this year. It is expected to slip another 1.8 percent to 72.6 percent by the year-end, Dau Tu Newspaper reported.

A report by the state-owned carrier showed that the loss to VietJetAir was due to increased competition from the budget carrier on the two popular Hanoi-HCMC and HCMC-Da Nang routes.

Lai Xuan Thanh, deputy head of Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam, said: “The new carriers have put Vietnam Airlines under pressure, even though the national carrier has a big advantage in full logistics support services.”

Local media in early August reported Vietnam Airlines was seeking permission from the Ministry of Transport to make an 80 percent reduction of its profit target this year since its total revenue in the first five months was only equal to 38.7 percent of the original plan.

Air Mekong entered Vietnam’s aviation market in October 2010 and has since offered 20,000 flights that have transported over 1.3 million passengers.

The private airline will add two Airbus A320 aircraft by December to its current fleet of four 90-passenger CRJ900s. An Airbus A320 can carry a total of 180 passengers and has been used by its rivals Vietnam Airlines and VietJetAir.

VietJetAir has been open for business since late last year, four years after receiving a license as the first private carrier in the country. It has made 360 flights with more than 40,000 passengers as of late February, only two months after its first flight.

The no-frills carrier is now flying with three Airbus A320 and planning for a fleet of 15-20 aircraft by 2015.

Statistics show Vietnam Airlines now flies 36 domestic routes to key destinations in the country, while the domestic air routes of Air Mekong and VietJetAir are 13 and 5 respectively.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120823-Vietnam-private-carriers-manage-to-seize-Vietnam-Airlines-market-share.aspx

Aug 28 2012

Liberty Insurance increases its Vietnam capital to $64 mil.

liberty insurance increases its vietnam capital to 64 mil

Liberty Insurance Limited said Friday its has increased its investment capital as part of its expansion plan to become one of the five largest non-life insurers in the Vietnamese market.

The capital increase of VND209 billion, to a total of more than VND1.2 billion (US$64 million), will help the company continue the development of its distribution systems, information technology investments, human resource training programs, product diversification and customer service quality benchmarks, Carlos Vanegas, CEO of Liberty Insurance, said in a statement.

“With financial strength, we can timely meet the financial obligations of our customers and partners while building a solid foundation for company development,” he said.

Liberty, a member of US-based Liberty Mutual Group, was awarded the investment license to operate in Vietnam in 2006. According to the company, it currently holds the seventh position out of 29 non-life insurance companies in Vietnam, based on net premium revenue.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120824-Liberty-Insurance-increases-its-Vietnam-capital-to-$64-mil.aspx

Aug 28 2012

Vietnam’s central bank appoints SJC as official gold producer

vietnam%e2%80%99s central bank appoints sjc as official gold producer

The State Bank of Vietnam said it has chosen Saigon Jewelry Company Ltd. as its official gold bar supplier, only allowing the company to produce the bullion when being ordered.

The long-anticipated decision means that the firm has to stop production of its own SJC-branded gold bars, according to a statement on the government’s website Thursday. The central bank will assigned orders to the company based on market demand and monetary policy.

Saigon Jewelry, managed by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee, accounts for more than 90 percent of the domestic gold bar market. It will save money to use the company’s facilities instead of investing in a new production line, the central bank said.

The State Bank of Vietnam has also banned commercial banks from receiving gold deposits and offering gold loans.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120824-Vietnam-central-bank-appoints-SJC-as-official-gold-producer.aspx

Aug 28 2012

Vietnam may postpone wage increase amid economic difficuties

vietnam may postpone wage increase amid economic difficuties

Vietnam’s labor ministry said its plan to raise the minimum salary at companies from January 1 may be delayed until mid-2013 since many businesses are still struggling.

While most local firms support a rise of at least 25 percent in the minimum wage proposed by the ministry, many of them believe they should be given more time, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

The ministry, officially known as the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said it may postpone the plan by two months or longer.

Nguyen Hong Ha, deputy director of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Ho Chi Minh City, said more than 30,000 companies have shut down this year while many others are facing high inventory levels.

A salary increase will have negative impacts on labor-intensive businesses, especially those in garment, textile and seafood sectors.

Vietnam’s economy expanded 4.66 percent in the three months ending June from a year earlier, following a 4 percent growth in the first quarter, according to the General Statistics Office in Hanoi.

Experts have said the full-year growth will be around 5 percent only.

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http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120826-Vietnam-may-postpone-wage-increase-amid-economic-difficuties.aspx

Aug 27 2012

A Hanoi take on the south’s fresh spring roll

a hanoi take on the south%e2%80%99s fresh spring roll

 
Pho cuon is a popular snack in Hanoi

Nguyen Khac Hieu Street near Hanoi’s Truc Bach Lake has for long been famous for pho cuon.

This unconventional dish was created when a local cook tried to make a new dish instead of cooking pho bo (beef noodle soup).

Instead of making noodles from rice flour, he sliced the dough into rice-paper-sized pieces. And then he wrapped beef stir-fried with garlic, salad, and basil in them, creating small rolls that he served with sweet and sour sauce and thinly sliced green papaya.

Pho cuon reminds me of the south’s fresh spring roll dishes like goi cuon and bo bia.

Southern Vietnamese cuisine originated among farmers who arrived and started cultivating new land. Goi cuon, made with fresh ingredients from the farm and shrimp from the Mekong River, made for a quick and versatile meal.

Goi cuon depends on the freshness and quality of ingredients rather than the cooking method.

The hot weather in the south means the fresh taste and lightness of goi cuon are just perfect on the palate. Its ingredients typically include fresh herbs, rice noodles, and boiled shrimp or pork meat which is wrapped in a thin rice paper.

The Hanoi cook may have created pho cuon after being inspired by goi cuon. Unconventional the dish may be, but it does not deviate from the Vietnamese concept of contrasting flavors and textures – it has fried garlic and beef, the fresh taste of the roll with sweet and sour sauce, and crunchy sliced green papaya.

Pho cuon, made only on order, is rapidly becoming popular in Hanoi.

Possibly the best time to have pho cuon is in the late afternoon, when life in the Truc Bach area becomes more relaxed, pagoda bells chime, and the breeze from the lakes cool the air.

The Truc Bach area is famous for its rich history, culture, and the beautiful Truc Bach and West Lakes. There are pho cuon pavement restaurants in front of willow trees on the banks of Truc Bach. From there I can see as far as Thanh Nien Road and West Lake, a wonderful place to watch the sunset while dining.

Another interesting place to have pho cuon is in Nguyen Khac Hieu Street, next to a small pagoda.

Pho cuon restaurants are normally family-run. At the restaurant, women quickly make the dish on order with assistance from their husband and children.

Pho cuon restaurants also serve other snacks such as pho chien phong (fried pho), ngo chien (fried corn), and seafood.

For just VND50,000 one can try pho cuon and the magnificent sunset is a bonus.

http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20120803-A-Hanoi-take-on-the-souths-fresh-spring-roll.aspx

Aug 27 2012

Cool off with a hot bowl of Canh chua

cool off with a hot bowl of canh chua

 
A bowl of canh chua ca (sour fish soup)

Ever seen construction workers drinking hot tea in the blazing early-afternoon sun? Ever seen office workers hunkering down to piping hot bowls of soup in the midday heat?

They do it because hot liquids actually help cool the body. Drinking beverages that are too cold can confuse the body into thinking it is cold, and often slows its reaction to the heat, whereas hot soups and teas have the opposite effect.

Canh chua is one of Vietnam’s most famous dishes and is especially good on hot summer days.

People from different regions in Vietnam cook canh chua with different local vegetables, fruits, and other ingredients. As canh chua blends a natural fresh sour taste with the vegetables and fruits in the soup, it goes very well with steamed rice, a staple on the Vietnamese table.

On hot summer days, people tend to have smaller appetites and often forgo steamed rice. With the addition of canh chua’s refreshing and cool flavors, however, it becomes easier to have one or two bowls of steamed rice with lunch or dinner.

Canh chua is a nice combination of vegetables, fish, pork, or snails, along with a vegetable or fruit to produce the soup’s sour taste.

Northerners typically cook canh chua with tamarind leaves, qua sau (Dracontomelom a sour summer fruit in the north of Vietnam), pickles, green mangoes, qua doc (another sour fruit), tomatoes, and lemon or kum quat. Variations include canh chua sau thit nac (sau fruit cooked with ground pork and shallots), canh chua rau muong (boiled morning glory with lemon juice, boiled sau fruit, or boiled tamarind leaves) and canh chua ca (fish soup cooked with green mangoes and shallots).

In the South, tamarind fruit and pineapple are the favored ingredients. Canh chua ca loc (canh chua with snakehead fish) with pineapple is one of the most popular variations, and uses many local ingredients from the rich Mekong Delta.

Yet northern and southern takes on canh chua fall into two basic categories. The first one is very simple and merely requires morning glory leaves, which are boiled either with tamarind leaves or qua sau. It takes a very short time (around 10 minutes) to make this dish.

For this canh chua style, one would boil 4 or 5 little qua sau fruits together with the morning glory. After that the cook uses a small spoon to grind the boiled qua sau in a small bowl of nuoc mam to make the soup’s flavoring sauce.

Two boiled qua sau are then ground and added to the soup, which gives a very fresh sour taste that rises in perfect contrast to hearty and fragrant white rice. Fresh boiled vegetables and sour soup served with rice is considered an essential summer dish in Vietnam.

If one uses tamarind leaves for cooking, adding the tamarind only after removing the boiled morning glory will help preserve the morning glory’s deep green hue.

“On a hot summer day, I don’t sell many other vegetables beyond morning glory, qua sau, tamarind leaves and fruit, and lemon,” said Ms. Tuoi, a vegetable vendor on Phan Huy Chu Street in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District. “These ingredients are for canh chua, and I sell a lot of them.”

Another version of canh chua is more time consuming to make. There are three basic ingredients to prepare: a protein such as fish, pork, or snails; one or more vegetables; and a fruit for its citric acid. This fruit can be pineapple, green mangoes and tamarind leave and fruit. Add fried shallots, spring onions, and other herbs, and one will have a delicious canh chua.

Canh sau chua suon (qua sau and pork ribs) is a very popular dish in Hanoi. In the past, a lunch consisting of only one dish such as canh sau chua suon was a good option for a busy mother.

With this dish, all one has to do is cook a pork chop with a bit of salt and fish sauce and then add some qua sau and water to the mixture. When the dish is cooked one uses a spoon to grind qua sau and then add it again to the pot with some shallots.

Canh chua ca (sour fish soup) is a popular dish in both the north and south of Vietnam. In the north, people like to marinate the food before cooking. A cook will usually fry the fish a bit before boiling with water to make the soup. By frying the fish it’s possible to keep the shape of it after cooking with water and decrease the fishy smell of the fish.

In the south, canh chua ca loc (canh chua with snakehead fish) is a very rich dish. It’s cooked with pineapple, tomatoes and a bit of vinegar, as well as shallots and other herbs such as ngo, which are all added after the fish is cooked to preserve the fresh taste of the ingredients. After the soup is cooked, fried shallots will be sprinkled atop the soup, to add more fragrance to the dish.

Canh chua is a simple but fresh and easy to cook dish which provides a lot of vitamins to provide relief from the heat.

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