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Nov 30 2012

Vietnam down one spot in top 10 remittance recipients

vietnam down one spot in top 10 remittance recipients

Vietnam has moved down one spot to number nine in the list of developing countries with the largest remittances as migrants around the world continue to send more money home amid the economic crisis, a World Bank report says.

The country is set to receive US$9 billion in overseas remittances this year, the same as in 2011, according to the report. There are more than four million Vietnamese living and working abroad.

The top recipient of remittances this year is India, with $70 billion. It is followed by China ($66 billion), the Philippines ($24 billion) and Mexico ($24 billion).

The World Bank said international migrants are weathering the effects of the ongoing crisis and are on track to remit $406 billion in savings to their families in developing countries, up 6.5 percent from last year. The flows are expected to rise 8 percent in 2013 and then 10 percent in 2014.

“The true size of remittance flows, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is believed to be significantly larger. Compared to private capital flows, remittance flows have shown remarkable resilience since the global financial crisis, registering only a modest fall in 2009, followed by a rapid recovery,” the Washington-based lender said.

“The size of remittance flows to developing countries is now more than three times that of official development assistance,” it added.

The World Bank’s projection is lower than Vietnam’s own forecast. According to the National Overseas Vietnamese Committee, Vietnam is expected to receive a record $10-11 billion in overseas remittances this year.

The flows are one of the main sources of foreign currencies for Vietnam. Since 1993, the country has received a total of $70 billion in remittances, or twice the amount of foreign aid from development partners over the same period, officials statistics show.

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Nov 30 2012

$12,000 fine no deterrent to polluting British firm

12000 fine no deterrent to polluting british firm

The industrial zones management board of the southern Vietnamese province of Binh Duong Tuesday ordered a British-owned company to immediately stop its sawdust emissions after they continued despite a fine.

Rochdale Spears Co. Ltd., which produces wood furniture for export at Dong An Industrial Zone, had been fined VND250 million (US$12,000) November 16 after three other businesses in the zone complained.

They had said the wood dust affected their production of garment fiber and painting.

A report by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had said the dust affected thousands of square meters, threatening the health of hundreds of workers.

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Nov 30 2012

State firms losing because of sloppy restructuring, oversight

state firms losing because of sloppy restructuring oversight

A Petrolimex’s station employee pumps gasoline in downtown Hanoi. Many state-owned enterprises, including Petrolimex, have reported massive losses. 

Many state-owned enterprises reported massive losses last year, with analysts blaming it on poorly manage restructuring and ineffective government oversight.

The government recently sent a report to lawmakers saying Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), Vietnam National Petroleum Group (Petrolimex), Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), Vietnam Waterway Construction Corporation (Vinawaco), and Military Petroleum Corporation (Mipecorp), five of the biggest SOEs, lost a total of VND5.8 trillion (US$278 million).

Some companies have in fact accumulated losses in excess of their capital. For the Vietnam Sericulture Corporation the excess is VND281 billion ($13.48 million) and for Vinawaco, VND604 billion.

The report blamed the losses on the global economic downturn.

“Vietnam has significantly suffered from this downturn, including in the financial and stock markets,” it said.

But economist Bui Kien Thanh refused to buy this, saying: “The real reason for the firms’ failure is the lack of strict oversight of their activities and their ineffective restructuring.

“Investment in projects without proper assessment is also one of reasons for the heavy losses.

“The licenses for their investments should have been more carefully considered, and the investment progress frequently monitored.”

Besides, some employees made use of the investment binge and poor oversight to indulge in corruption, Thanh said.

Though the restructuring of SOEs has been in the works for many years, specific measures have not been mapped out yet, making the process inefficient, he explained.

Oversight of the SOEs is poor basically because of a shortage of inspectors and auditors, he said.

“To strengthen oversight of SOEs, it is very important to improve the capacity of these departments.”

Nguyen Duc Thanh, director of an economic and policy research center at the Hanoi National University, said the losses suffered by SOEs are understandable in the context of the global economic downturn and shrinking markets.

But Vietnam should speed up their restructuring, he said.

“The restructuring of both loss-making and profitable firms should be implemented. Many now achieve good results because of incentives they get in terms of land and capital or operating in monopoly sectors.

“Under such favorable conditions, they have not yet been exposed.

“So we should improve the efficiency of SOEs so that they are able to cope with challenges.”

Experts have called for SOEs to sell shares or pull out of non-core sectors, but it is not an easy task under the current conditions.

A recent IPO of 5.94 million shares in SHB-Vinacomin Insurance Firm was cancelled in October because only one institutional investor and individual investor each registered to buy. The shares had been priced at VND10,000 each.

Economist Nguyen Minh Phong said divesting from non-core sectors is necessary, but should be carefully planned.

“The bearish stock market cannot cope with trillions of dong being withdrawn,” he said.

In July Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a project to restructure SOEs, which requires them to withdraw from non-core businesses by 2015.

Overdue debts

By late last year debts owed by state-owned firms had topped VND1,292 trillion, up 18.9 percent from 2010, according to the Ministry of Finance. Their debt-to-equity ratio was 1.77.

Many SOEs have overdue debts of trillions of dong. EVN owes over VND10.1 trillion, while the figure for oil and gas group PetroVietnam is VND1.73 trillion.

When state firms have difficulty repaying such debts , the Ministry of Finance provides them loans.

The ministry has helped Vietnam Paper Corporation, the Vietnam Construction Corp., construction group Song Da, and the Vietnam Cement Corporation, which face debts that total  $109.7 million.

Minister of Finance Vuong Dinh Hue said the firms are restructuring and are committed to repaying the loans within five years.

An economist, who did not wish to be named, said this bailout is also a reason for SOEs’ inefficiency, pointing out they are not too worried about incurring losses.

The government should make them swim or sink on their own to improve their competitiveness, he said.

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Nov 30 2012

Vietnam three-year bonds advance for sixth week on bank demand

vietnam three year bonds advance for sixth week on bank demand

Vietnam’s three-year bonds rose for a sixth week, the longest winning streak since May, on speculation demand from banks increased as slower credit growth left them with excess cash. The dong was steady.

Outstanding loans have risen 4.2 this year, while deposits climbed 16 percent, Vu Duc Dam, chairman of the Government Office, said Thursday in Hanoi. The interbank overnight deposit rate reached a three-month low of 1.52 percent yesterday and has dropped 29 basis points this week, according to a daily fixing rate from banks compiled by Bloomberg.

“Yields are good, so bonds are very attractive for commercial banks,” said Tran Kieu Hung, a Hanoi-based bond trader at Bank for Investment Development of Vietnam. “Credit growth is low and commercial banks have a lot of money in hand.”

The yield on the three-year notes fell 11 basis points, or 0.11 percentage point, to 9.29 percent this week, according to a daily fixing rate from banks compiled by Bloomberg. The yield fell one basis point Friday.

The dong was little changed on Friday and this week at 20,850 per dollar as of 4:15 p.m. in Hanoi, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The State Bank of Vietnam set its reference rate at 20,828, unchanged since Dec. 26, according to its website. The currency is allowed to trade as much as 1 percent on either side of the rate.

Nov 30 2012

Vietnam welcomes over 6 mln foreigners

vietnam welcomes over 6 mln foreigners

More than six million foreigners have visited Vietnam this year, including some 3.6 million tourists, according a report prepared by the General Statistics Office.

The rest have entered the country for business, visiting their families and other purposes, the office said. The number of international visitors to Vietnam in the first 11 months was up 11.4 percent from the same period last year, while the increase in the number of foreign tourists was 9.4 percent.

China accounted for the most number of foreign visitors, with more than 1.28 million, it said. It was followed by South Korea, Japan, the United States and Taiwan.

Arrivals from all countries have increased this year, report said. 

Meanwhile, Vietnamese tourists have topped the list in Cambodia over the first 10 months of the year.

More than 638,000 Vietnamese citizens visited the neighboring kingdom during this period, a Vietnam News Agency report said Wednesday, citing the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia.

The number of Vietnamese tourists to Cambodia has increased by 24 percent from same period last year, it said, adding that South Korea and China ranked second and third respectively.

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Nov 30 2012

Transcending the mundane in An Giang

transcending the mundane in an giang

Tourists pick dien dien (Sesbania sesban) flowers in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. The flower is one of the characteristics of the delta’s high-tide season that starts in the seventh month and ends in the tenth month of the lunar calendar.

It is common knowledge in Vietnam that the Mekong Delta in Vietnam has two seasons, the “dry” one between December and April, and the “rainy” one between May and November.

But when you talk to local people, they will tell you about the “floating” – or high-tide – season when more water from the Mekong Delta River flows into its tributaries in Vietnam – the Tien and Hau rivers. Starting in the seventh month and ending in the tenth month of the lunar calendar, the off-the-book season is marked with flooded fields, but the flooding also brings alluvium that enriches the soil, not to mention the abundance fresh water produce – read fish. That all this could be lost to upstream dams in China, Laos and Thailand, and that the delta is imperiled by climate change is a sobering thought.

Somewhat surprisingly, the “floating” season is also a favorite season for travelers, and once you are there, you understand why. Not only does nature put her liveliest foot forward at this time, the liveliness seeps into locals as well. It is at this time that traditional songs known as vong co (literally “longing for the past”) are sung by people when rowing their boats along rivers to harvest the season’s produce, including some special ones like the dien dien (Sesbania sesban) flowers. The dishes made from the special produce, including the dien dien flowers and ca linh (a fish species under the same family with carps), are also a draw.

With the season nearing its end, I decided that I could not let it go without a visit. I picked a tour to An Giang Province, which hosts the region’s biggest lake and one of its most famous forested wetlands, for a high-tide season traveling trip.

Lake in the sky

Located among Khanh Binh, Khanh An, and Nhon Hoi communes in An Phu District, Bung Binh Thien (Lake in the sky) looked out of place when we saw it. Its clean and blue water was in contrast to the muddy look of the Binh Ghi River, which flows into the lake, caused by the increase in alluvium during the high-tide season.

A tour guide explained to us that a special kind of seaweed in the four-meter deep lake helped filter the muddy water flowing into it. 

Thanks to this facility, the lake is home to hundreds of species of freshwater fish and flowering plants commonly used in local cooking like water lilies and lotus. So, it is not rare to see local farmers fishing on small boats there, making the scene a photographer’s delight.

Another interesting aspect of this lake is that while its area is nearly 300 hectares during the dry season, it can expand by another 200 hectares during rainy season.

However, the lake’s name indicates its real character – a tranquility that locals feel makes it a transcendental place.  One tends to agree, watching boats row through hanging branches of dien dien full of yellow flowers.

A mosque of the Cham people that stands near the lake adds to the sacred feeling. The Masjid Khay Ri Yah carries typical details of Islamic architecture: a dome with a white star on the top, and overturned-U-shaped doors. It has spacious interiors, numerous columns, white floors and ceilings painted blue, representing freedom and peace.

Mohammed Li, deputy chief of Bung Binh Thien Hamlet, said it is one of seven Cham hamlets in Chau Doc Town, where some 13,700 Muslims live.

After seeing the mosque, we headed for dinner at the official’s house. He explained to us about the culture of the Cham people and their religion over the past two years.

He treated us to specialties of the high-tide season, like grilled ca linh with a dip made of fish sauce and tamarind, banh xeo (rice pancake) with ca linh, and the traditional Vietnamese soup, canh chua (sour soup), modified with ca linh and dien dien flowers.

We did not have to sit on the floor and eat with our fingers as the Cham do. Li had considerately prepared spoons and chopsticks for us. He also treated us to various stories about the Cham people’s customs, as well as the daily life of people living around the lake.

Sanctuary wetland

The next day, we visited the Tra Su Cajeput Forest, which is located in Van Giao Commune, Tinh Bien District.

One of the Mekong Delta’s largest forested wetlands, the 1,500-hectare forest hosts some 140 plant species, mainly cajeput tress, 11 animal species and 23 kinds of fish. These include red-listed wading birds like oriental darters (Anhinga melanogaster), and water birds like painted storks (Mycteria leucocephala).

During the floating season, the forest’s population increases as thousands of fish and birds and many other species flock there.

When we arrived at the forest, we were in for a feast for the eyes: the fresh green of duckweed covered the water’s surface, and there were lotus leaves as well.  As we entered the forest on a motorboat, it felt as though we were riding on a flying carpet of green duckweed.

Later, we switched to a small rowboat to go deeper, so that we would not disturb the forest’s residents with the noise of the motor.  From the feeling of being on an adventure, it became a journey of peace as we slowly passed rows of century-old cajeput trees. Above our heads, birds of all kinds called to each other.

There was also a 25-meter tall tower for visitors to change their view of the forest – observing it from a height with the That Son Range in the backdrop.

Other not-to-be missed high tide season destinations in An Giang include the Vam Nao River that flows through Tan Trung Commune in Phu Tan District. Visitors also have homestay options during which they can join locals in their daily activities, rowing boats, fishing and picking dien dien flowers. 

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Nov 30 2012

Peripheral attractions

peripheral attractions

A lake located at the third stage of the Thum Thum Waterfall on the western side of Yen Tu Mountain in the northern province of Bac Giang

There is something about a mountain that is sacred, maybe it is its aloofness, the fact that it stands away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, offering an ideal space for introspection, reflection and meditation. And some mountains become sacred hotspots after houses of worship are constructed on them.

Every year, the Yen Tu Mountain, where Vietnamese Zen Buddhism founder King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) became enlightened, draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. They usually access the 1,064-meter mountain from its east side and a cable car system.

But, even as Yen Tu gets all the attention it richly deserves, those willing to veer slightly off the beaten path and explore the west side of the holy mountain are in for more than a pleasant surprise –numerous pagodas, waterfalls and streams besides century-old trees are to be found along the way to the mountain top in the districts of Yen Dung, Son Dong, Luc Ngan and Luc Nam in Bac Giang Province.

The west side, covering nearly 100 kilometers, is also home to many cultural and historical works, especially those which were built during the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1226-1400) dynasties.

Choosing Luc Nam District as the main destination for our trip to Yen Tu’s west side this time, we set off on motorbikes from Hanoi. After riding for about 100 kilometers, we reached the district’s Doi Ngo Town. From there, we followed Road 293, which was so rough that it seemed to seriously threaten the well-being of our bikes. 

Our first destination was Mo Stream, where we burned incense at the three temples Thuong (above), Trung (middle), and Ha (below).

The temples are said to be dedicated to Princess Que My Nuong, the daughter of King Hung XVI, according to a common folktale about the dynasty that ruled the country more than 2,000 years ago.

Mo flows around the Huyen Dinh Mountain, and at many sections it turns into small and big waterfalls, including Thum Thum, the highest of them all.

After resting for a while under a 200-year-old-plus orchid tree on the premises of the Ha Temple, we decided to check out the Thum Thum Waterfall, highly praised by those who have been there before. The waterfall was about 3.5 kilometers away, which was not a long distance, but the road was so rocky that it sapped the energy. We had to drive with intense concentration, and in this situation, a sudden downpour did not provide any relief. 

Soon we spotted a small creek, and a young ice-cream seller from the Cao La ethnic minority told us that there was another kilometer to reach Thum Thum. He said we could get there by walking along the creek or through the nearby forest. The kind man did not forget to warn us of leeches.

Thum Thum, starting from the top of Huyen Dinh Mountain some 100 meters high, falls in four stages with each of them having its own unique attraction.

At the first level, there are “bathtubs,” ponds created by the cascade and rocks. They looked so attractive that many of us of could not help but jump into them to have the cool and powerful water rejuvenate our sore muscles and dirty bodies after a long hard trip.

The way to the second level was quite tricky and slippery. We had to hold hands and hold onto tree branches, carefully, so we did not slip and fall.  No wonder the second level was named Tron (slippery) Waterfall. And, the third level had such clean and pure water that every small pebble on the bottom could be seen.

We then crossed giant rocks and went through a forest to reach the last level. As the last waterfall was not very high, just between three and four meters, young men could try hanging on to the rocks and reached the top, completing what we called the Thum Thum obstacle course. The waterfall was named after the sound of the drum call of Tran Hung Dao (1228–1300), the supreme commander under the Tran Dynasty who repelled three Mongol invasions in the 13th century.

Holy water

One of the most famous “assets” of Luc Nam is the Nuoc Vang (golden water) Stream that runs along Phat Son Mountain, between 800 and 900 meters above the sea level. Many theories, both scientific and legendary, have tried to explain the unique color of the stream – similar to bee honey – which stays the same throughout the year.

Scientists speculate that the color is caused by a giant coal mine in Quang Ninh Province or the disintegration and agglomeration of trees over thousands of years.

Local folklore has it that the water gets its color from the sacred place from where it flows. Located on the top of the Phat Son Mountain, and not far from the origin of Nuoc Vang is the Ngoa Van Temple – a hermitage where King Tran Nhan Tong lived as an ascetic more than 700 years ago.

To see the holy stream with our own eyes, we headed to Luc Son Commune, where it is located some five kilometers from the headquarters of the local People’s Committee.

Once again, the rocky road was a stiff challenge, but one well worth meeting, because you are rewarded by refreshing, transparent waters of the stream and beautiful views. We reached the 50-meter Giot Waterfall at the top of Nuoc Vang, marking our final destination for this trip, but the enjoyment was just beginning.

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Nov 29 2012

Vietnam two-year bonds rise after yield declines at debt auction

vietnam two year bonds rise after yield declines at debt auction

Vietnam’s two-year bonds rose the most in a week, pushing the yield to a four-month low, after the government’s borrowing costs declined at a debt auction. The dong was steady.

The State Treasury sold VND1 trillion ($48 million) of two-year notes at 9.00 percent yesterday, according to the Hanoi Stock Exchange’s website. That compares with 9.15 percent at the previous sale on Nov. 21.

“The fall in yields indicates that demand for government bonds is still high,” said Nguyen Duy Phong, a Ho Chi Minh City-based analyst at Viet Capital Securities.

The yield on the two-year bonds dropped nine basis points, or 0.09 percentage point, to 9.10 percent, according to a daily fixing rate from banks compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the lowest level since Aug. 6. The yield on benchmark five-year bonds fell two basis points to 9.83 percent.

The dong traded at 20,850 per dollar as of 1:46 p.m. Thursday in Hanoi, compared with 20,848 on Wednesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The State Bank of Vietnam set its reference rate at 20,828, unchanged since Dec. 26, according to its website. The currency is allowed to trade up to 1 percent on either side of the rate.

Nov 28 2012

Vietnam five-year bonds advance ahead of government debt auction

vietnam five year bonds advance ahead of government debt auction

Vietnam’s benchmark five-year bonds rose on speculation yields will fall at a government debt auction on Wednesday. The dong strengthened.

Vietnam’s State Treasury will auction VND1 trillion ($48 million) each of two-, three- and five-year notes, according to the Hanoi Stock Exchange.

“Demand for short-term and other government-backed bonds remains solid,” Pham Thuy Linh and Trinh Quang Dung, analysts at Vietcombank Securities Co., wrote in a research note Wednesday. The “winning rates” at the auction are likely to remain low or fall slightly, they wrote.

The yield on five-year bonds fell three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 9.85 percent, according to a daily fixing rate from banks compiled by Bloomberg.

The dong rose 0.05 percent to 20,848 per dollar as of 3:20 p.m. in Hanoi on Wednesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The State Bank of Vietnam set its reference rate for the currency at 20,828, unchanged since Dec. 26, according to its website. The currency is allowed to trade up to 1 percent on either side of the fixing.

Nov 28 2012

Russia to launch more non-stop flights to central Vietnam

russia to launch more non stop flights to central vietnam

Russia is opening a non-stop air route from Chelyabinsk to Cam Ranh International Airport in central Vietnam.

Russian news agency Interfax-Ural on Monday said there will be regular flights on the route starting this winter.

It did not reveal the flight frequency.

Chelyabinsk lies along the Europe and Asia borderline and is one of the biggest industrial centers in Russia.

The new route aims to bring more Russian tourists to the famous resort town of Nha Trang.

Vladivostok Air, the largest carrier in the Russian Far East, in late 2010 also launched two routes from Vladivostok and Khabarovsk to Cam Ranh. But flights have not been regular.

The town and the province have been familiar to the Russian people for a long time since the Russian Navy had been using Cam Ranh port, then a military one, between 1979 and 2002, making it Russia’s biggest Naval base outside its territory.

Cam Ranh has since been turned into a civil port. But President Truong Tan San said during a Moscow visit in July that Vietnam will allow Russia to build a shipyard for repair and maintenance services at the port.

Vietnam also plans to establish a submarine base at Cam Ranh and it is likely to involve Russia, which has been given an order for six Kilo-class submarines worth US$2 billion. The first submarine was sent to Vietnam in August this year.

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