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Jul 31 2013

Bank lay-offs in Vietnam could continue for two years

bank lay offs in vietnam could continue for two years

 
A customer deposits money as bank staff count money at a Vietcombank branch in Hanoi

Nguyen Thu Phuong, a 26-year-old accountant with a commercial bank in Hanoi, scours websites of employment agencies everyday, looking for recruitment information.

“My bank is cutting employees as business reduces and it implements its restructuring plan. Four staff members in my office have been laid off over the last few months,” she said. “Many of my colleagues are also actively seeking jobs.”

Phuong is among many employees in the banking sector worried about losing their jobs as part of banks’ cost cutting measures in the face of declining profits.

Commercial bank ACB laid off 223 employees in the first quarter of this year, and cut salaries and allowances by VND100 billion (US$4.76 million). During this period, the average monthly salary and allowances of an employee fell by 30 percent to VND9.5 million.

The Maritime Bank plans to cut 679 employees this year. In 2012, it laid off 1,060 people. Employees who have not lost their jobs have had to take on the work of the laid-off staff.

Cao Sy Kiem, former governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, said banks cutting back on their staff was a normal measure as low credit expansion and high bad debts pushed profits down.

“Banks now are reducing their spending as they restructure to improve operational efficiency. Cutting the staff is one of the measures to lower costs,” he said. “The situation could continue into the next year unless the economy shows signs of recovery.”

ACB’s first quarter profits fell by 50 percent year-on-year to VND395 billion, according to the bank’s financial report. Maritime Bank’s pre-tax profits for the first quarter fell 70 percent over the same period in 2012 to VND255.4 billion.

Non-performing loans reported by commercial lenders stood at 4.51 percent at the end of March, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the National Assembly on May 20, down from the central bank’s estimate of 7.8 percent at the end of last year. Credit-rating companies estimate bad debt at between 10 percent and 20 percent, according to JPMorgan Chase Co.

The central bank has said that around 10 commercial lenders will be restructured by the end of this year. So far, three small lenders in Ho Chi Minh City have been merged to form the Saigon Commercial Bank, while Habubank has been acquired by Saigon-Hanoi Bank.

Nguyen Thi Van Anh, managing director of recruitment company Navigos Search, said banks had started cutting employees when their business started falling two years ago.

The sharp cuts are also happening because of redundant employees at banks which had large demand for staff 5-6 years ago. Then, many banks were announcing new recruitments every quarter, every month even, she said.

At that time, many commercial banks were expanding their network to serve increasing demand for capital as the local stock and financial markets expanded rapidly, she explained.

Despite cutting back on staff, banks are still finding it hard to fill up high positions. It takes them 3-6 months to find a suitable person for such positions, she said. “Very few meet the requirements of such jobs.”

Anh said the banks’ business difficulties have not yet been solved, so the trend to cut employees is likely to persist for the next 1-2 years.

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Jul 31 2013

Vietnam sees TPP trade talks finishing this year

vietnam sees tpp trade talks finishing this year

Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal are very likely to be wrapped up by the end of 2013, Industry and Trade Minister Vu Huy Hoang has said following the 18th round of talks.

Negotiators are trying to narrow gaps, especially on “sensitive” issues like state-owned enterprises, public procurement, and the environment.

The 10-day 18th round ended in Malaysia the same day with “further strong progress” achieved, according to the office of the US trade representative.

The next round is scheduled to be held in Brunei in late August.

The pact is part of a US strategic shift under President Barack Obama to focus more economic resources on Asia and “balance China’s rise.”

Japan became the 12th member by joining the negotiations on July 23, along with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

Vietnam expects the TPP, whose member countries account for nearly 40 percent of the global economy and one-third of all world trade, to create more opportunities to boost exports and attract more foreign investment.

TPP aims to eliminate barriers to goods and services and address issues including the movement of electronic data, market access for financial firms, and copyright protection.

Tariffs on most goods traded between members will be phased out over 10 years, while other free trade and bilateral agreements allow open markets and cut taxes on a more limited range of goods.

News website Saigon Times quoted Herb Cochran, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, as saying trade between Vietnam and the US could rise by two and a half times from now to US$24.9 billion in 2020 if Vietnam signs the deal.

Exports of garments and footwear, Vietnam’s key items, are likely to see growth of nearly 50 percent by 2020, he said.

The status of market or non-market economy is among issues under discussion in bilateral talks between Vietnam and the US, and not in the TTP talks, Hoang said, indicating that Vietnam not being recognized widely as a market economy did not affect the negotiations.

The country has so far achieved recognition from seven other members of the TPP and 34 in all.

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Jul 31 2013

Bánh xèo at its sizzling best

banh xeo at its sizzling best

 

 

At a small restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, bánh xèo (sizzling cake) is still cooked the original way: deep-fried with pork fat and on ovens using firewood  / PHOTOS: GIANG VU

Bánh xèo – a deep-fried pancake stuffed with pork, shrimps, hulled mung beans and bean sprouts – is a popular dish in Ho Chi Minh City that people cannot resist.

Over the years, all kinds of eateries, from the humble street-side stall to fancy, high-end restaurants, have “specialized” in bánh xèo – which can be translated as “sizzling cake.”

Furthermore, several bánh xèo trademarks have emerged, like Muoi Xiem and An la ghien.

Amidst this flurry, there is one place that has been open for decades, attracting clients for remaining faithful to the “original” recipe.

Indeed, the outdoor restaurant in a small alley on Dinh Cong Trang Street is the eatery of choice for many residents when they want to introduce bánh xèo to their foreign friends.

This has turned the restaurant to a venue frequented by local residents as well as foreigners.

Speaking for myself, I choose it because I feel, like many others, that the dish is made and served in an original way. There are several reasons for this.

First, this restaurant still fries bánh xèo in pork fat, while most other eateries have switched to cooking oil on health concerns.

One of the cooks there told me that they do not use oil because the cake will smell of oil after it cools.  Although they use a big spoon of fat to fry the cake, all the fat will be taken out when the cake is cooked, he said.

Another original aspect to the way bánh xèo is cooked here is the use of firewood. The restaurant cooks claim, and I feel they are justified in doing so, that gas ovens can cook the cake quickly, but it does not taste and smell as good as the one cooked using firewood.

The ambience at this restaurant is another thing that harks back to the “good old days.” Feeling both the heat of the stove and the coolness of the breeze, seeing the cooks make the dish, and hearing it sizzle – these are all parts of the rural flavor that cannot be experienced in most other eateries that serve bánh xèo.

The appetite stimulating environment gets the customer ready to attack the yellow, crispy pancake with its basket of fresh leafy vegetables as soon as it is served. Wrapping a piece of the cake in various leaves, dipping it into the nước mắm (fish sauce) mixed with vinegar or lemon and sugar, gives me a gastronomic high, and I have seen this happen to others as well.

When I took my Belgian friend to this restaurant recently, the dish proved to be a conversation stopper. Apart from various exclamations of pleasure, he remained intent on swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the delicious morsels. It was only when the cake was almost gone that he could take a break and start talking to me.

Finally, if you happen to visit the Dinh Cong Trang restaurant, do not forget to look around.

Chances are that you will be able to see groups of women chit-chatting continuously as their hands ceaselessly to wrap and dip the cake.

It is a scene that by itself is worth a visit. 

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Jul 31 2013

Vietnam travel firm launches photo contest on Facebook

vietnam travel firm launches photo contest on facebook


The Dalat Edensee Resort and Spa in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat, a partner of NTTV Travel

 

NTTV Travel, also known as Dulich Deluxe, a leading hotel booking service from Ho Chi Minh City specializing in high-end hotels and resorts, has announced its “My Travel” photo contest on its Facebook page.

 

The contest offer participants a chance to stay in a five-star hotel by submitting one of their luxury travel photos.

 

Facebook users wishing to join the contest must upload one photo of themselves taken at a four or five-star hotel or resort in Vietnam to www.facebook.com/DulichDeluxe, along with a description of where the picture was taken.

 

Seven prizes in all will be awarded, five of which will be based on the number of “Likes” each picture receives; one will be chosen by Dulich Deluxe itself, and the remaining prize – two nights for two people in a high end room with breakfast, dinner and spa – will be chosen by a sponsor.

 

All participants will receive a coupon good for VND200,000 off their next NTTV Travel booking.

 

The photo contest will run through August 15.

 

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Jul 31 2013

VietJet Air increases flights to Hue for airport’s reopening

vietjet air increases flights to hue for airport%e2%80%99s reopening

VietJet Air, Vietnam’s first private airline, announced Monday it will soon up its roundtrip flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Hue to two per day, in time for the reopening of Hue’s international airport.

Starting September 20, when Phu Bai International Airport is set to reopen, two months ahead of schedule, after six months of repairs to its runway, the airline will offer the two daily roundtrip flights on the Airbus A320 aircraft, which holds 180 passengers.

Daily flights from HCMC to Hue will depart at 6:45 a.m. and 7:20 p.m. and flights from Hue to HCMC will be scheduled for at 8:40 a.m. and 9:15 p.m.

Passengers can book tickets now at any VietJet Air agency; online at www.vietjetair.com; or by phone: 19001886.

Phu Bai is being upgraded to serve up to 20 planes during peak hours and five million passengers per year by 2020. By 2030, it is expected to handle 26 planes in peak hours; and nine million passengers and 200,000 tons of cargo annually.

Before the temporary closure, it had been receiving more than one million passengers per year, making it Vietnam’s fourth busiest airport.

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Jul 30 2013

New hobby quivers into Ho Chi Minh City

new hobby quivers into ho chi minh city

Archery club founded about three months ago has already gained an enthusiastic following

 


Members of Olympic Archery Club practice their skills during an outdoor session at the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Cultural House in District 1 / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

Ten people stood in a row, looking serious and intent, as though they were on the frontlines of an infantry charge.

Their shoulders and arms were covered in protective clothing, and in their hands were bows and arrows.

A whistle blew, and all of them raised their bows, pulled the string and let go off their arrows.

A collective “whoosh” rent the air.

It appeared that two of the arrows had found their mark, a floating balloon about 20 meters away.

There were happy and disappointed looks on the archers’ faces, but these were soon replaced with tense excitement as they took new arrows and prepared for the next round.

It was past 10 a.m., and the players were all damp with sweat, but no one seemed to notice or mind. 

Onlookers were also unconcerned, absorbed as they were in the games held by the Olympic Archery Club at the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Cultural House in District 1.

The club was founded about three months ago, but it has already created a buzz in the southern metro.

Starting with an indoor range with two target faces on the third floor of the building, the club has recently begun organizing outdoor sessions with more and more challenging targets like moving balloons.

The change has increased exposure of the sport among the HCMC public.

The club’s members now are no longer restricted to young adults like students. The membership now includes children as young as six and seven and men as old as 80. Several foreigners are in the fray, too. 

Andreas said he had never practiced archery in his home country, Sweden. He had discovered the club while looking for some kind of shooting sport here, in Vietnam.

He said the sport was easy to play, and that he and his wife are now considered good although they do not practice frequently.

As he talked, Andreas took out his mobile phone and showed off the picture of his achievement: a target face with some ten arrows sticking to it. 

The Swede said that he and his wife are the only foreigners at the club at present, but if other foreigners know about it, they will surely join and love the sport as much he does.

The number of Vietnamese amateur archers, meanwhile, has been increasing steadily.

Hoang My, 14, frequents the club with her 84-year-old grandfather and her 10-year-old sister. Living in District 11, they take a bus to the house to attend almost every session of the club, and practice for about two hours each time.

Asked about his enthusiasm for archery, My’s grandfather said that at first, he had joined his grandchildren just for fun, because he had lots of free time. But, later, thanks to the sport, he realized that he still has strength in his arms instead of being old and weak with failing eyesight and hearing.

Another enthusiast, Nguyen Minh Trung, who works for a beverage company, said the best thing about archery is that it trains one to be patient and calm. Just one second of agitation means missing the target, he said.

Trung said he started with archery nearly one year ago, and has practiced his skills at the club every weekend since it was founded.

“I always feel relaxed afterwards,” he said.

The club is further boosting the sport among the public with an archery class that opened last week for people between ten and 70 years old.

For VND300,000 (US$14.08), learners are taught theory and trained in skills over five days. The class ends with a final test and certificates are granted to qualified learners.

Previously, the club had organized a free class for children to mark the Children’s Day (June 1). During the class, kids dressed like hunters and were given short bows and arrows to play the sport.

Hoang Than, one of the club’s coaches, said that since arrows move very fast, they are always particular about safety, especially when teaching children.

Anyone who does not follow instructions will be asked to quit, he said, adding that this also helps teach children to be disciplined and calm.

In May, the club organized a field trip to the coastal resort town of Vung Tau, during which members were able to practice fishing with bows and arrows.

Doan Thi Le, manager of the club, said they plan to organize more field trips in the future so that members can have more “interesting” experiences.

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Jul 29 2013

Vietnam foreign investment up by 20 pct

vietnam foreign investment up by 20 pct

Foreign direct investment has risen by nearly 20 percent year-on-year in the first seven months to US$11.9 billion.

New projects were slightly down in number but saw 10 percent more investment at $7 billion.

Manufacturing and processing remained the sector attracting the largest investment, accounting for 87.6 percent of the money.

Property attracted the second largest amount of $580.8 million.

Of 46 countries and territories with investments in Vietnam, Japan remained the largest with $4.1 billion, followed by Singapore and Russia.

The government targets full-year FDI of $13-14 billion, a figure analysts say is likely to be met or even exceeded.

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Jul 27 2013

Vietnam tax authorities crack down on evaders, collect $509,100

vietnam tax authorities crack down on evaders collect 509100

Ho Chi Minh City tax officials recently collected VND10.8 billion (US$509,100) that 11 people allegedly evaded by concealing their incomes.

A retailer, identified only as T., topped the list by failing to pay more than VND2.2 billion ($103,730) on incomes he earned as chairman of a company and board member of many others.

T., a builder, was found to have evaded payment of VND1.85 billion.

The lists includes several more in retailing and some in real estate.

Tran Thi Tuyet Hoa, head of the department’s personal income tax office, said the 11 only declared and paid tax on one source of income, but data collected by the department between 2009 and 2011 found they had “very large” incomes from other sources.

Hoa said the highest rate of 35 percent is imposed on an annual income of more than VND960 million ($45,300). Vietnam’s GDP per capita in 2012 was $1,596.

“We will continue to check for such evasion to guarantee fairness in tax collection.”

But lawyer Tran Xoa said tax officials are being lenient with the rich, only pulling them up now, four years after the Personal Income Tax Law took effect.

Those evading taxes have to be publicly named and reported to the police, he said.

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Jul 27 2013

Adventures by the caveful

adventures by the caveful

 Thuy Cung (undersea palace) Cave at the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the central province of Quang Binh opened to tourism since May / PHOTO COURTESY OF PHONG NHA – KE BANG TOURISM CENTER

Have you ever heard about the Son Doong Cave? Do you know that it is so big that a 40-story building can fit inside it quite easily? And that there is even a jungle inside it?

If you are curious enough and ready to explore the world’s largest cave, do not hesitate to set out on a trip to Vietnam’s Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the central province of Quang Binh.

Local authorities have recently announced that they are opening trial tours to the cave that is 150 meters high and 200 meters wide. If the pilot project proves successful, Son Doong will be officially opened to caving tourism between February and August every year.

Under the trial project, there will be two tours every month, with each lasting five or seven days, the Dan Tri online newspaper reported, citing the Quang Binh People’s Committee.

The tours will consist of three trekking trips, with each trip having seven tourists and 15 local porters at most, it reported.

The mouth of Son Doong was first discovered by Ho Khanh, a local resident. Later, in 2009, Khanh acted as a guide for expeditions by members of the British Cave Research Association led by Howard Limbert and his wife Deb Limbert.

That year the cave became known worldwide after it was announced as the world’s largest.

Son Doong tours are among plans that local authorities and the Phong Nha – Ke Bang Tourism Center, the main operator of tours at the park, have recently introduced to boost tourism in the area.

Previously, in May, they had introduced a new tour to the Sinh Ton (living) Valley and Thuy Cung (undersea palace) Cave.

The tour starts at the Dau Rai primeval forest, which hosts hundreds of centuries old trees with trunks so big it would take three to four adults to embrace them. Dau Rai is a plant (Dipterocarpus alatus) native to Vietnam and several other countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia.

From the forest, tourists go along Tien (fairy) Spring to Nuoc Lan (diving waters) Cave, where they are provided with special equipment to discover the wild cave.

Next is the Thuy Cung Cave which has “extraordinarily blue” waters.

The tour ends at Sinh Ton – a valley that covers more than 2,000 hectares, and is surrounded by limestone mountains.

If tourists choose two-day tours instead of a day-long tour, they will spend one night in the valley. Meals of wild vegetables, fish, grilled meat and rice balls are included in the tours.

U Bo – one of the park’s highest mountains – is also expected to open to tourism on a trial basis next month, according to the website of Phong Nha – Ke Bang Tourism Center.

From the mountain’s top, located more than 1,000 meters above the sea level, tourists can get a bird’s eye view of famous sites in Quang Binh as far as 40 kilometers away, like the Nhat Le Beach, Dong Hoi Town, and the Bao Ninh white sand beach.

Surrounding the mountain are primeval forests and historic relic sites.

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Jul 26 2013

Vietnam launches debt firm to rescue its battered banks

vietnam launches debt firm to rescue its battered banks

Vietnam launched an asset firm to buy up the bad debts of its banks on Friday, a move touted as one of its biggest reforms but seen as merely a band-aid fix for its ailing, credit-starved economy.

The State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has faced long delays in setting up the Vietnam Asset Management Company (VAMC), or “bad debt bank”, to rescue dozens of lenders crippled by what economists say is Asia’s highest ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs).

The central bank’s plan remains vague and the task is seen as a barometer of Vietnam’s commitment to restructuring a once thriving economy fast losing its appeal among foreign investors. It grew 5.03 percent in 2012, its slowest pace in 13 years.

The poor state of the economy has been blamed on banks that lent carelessly, especially to state-owned firms, leading to a credit drought, a real estate market crisis and bankruptcy of at least 120,000 businesses since 2011, government figures show.

At Friday’s launch, SBV officials shed little light on how the asset management firm would operate and the central bank governor sought to temper expectations.

“This is not a magic wand to make all bad debt disappear. It’s just a tool to help solve the bad debts in the banking system,” Nguyen Van Binh said in launching the VAMC, adding its aim was to bring NPLs down to a “manageable” level by 2015.

The concept is similar to Thailand’s when it set up an asset management firm in 2003 in the wake of the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis to tackle an NPL ratio of nearly 20 percent.

The VAMC’s working capital is 500 billion dong ($23.6 million) - “miniscule” according to the World Bank’s July 12 report. It will buy NPLs only on property assets in return for “special bonds”, the SBV’s deputy governor Dang Thanh Binh told Reuters in April.

‘STRANGE COMPANY’

The SBV has yet to say what the VAMC will do with the debt it buys. Vietnam’s reluctance to increase foreign shareholdings in its banks beyond a 20-30 percent cap has also added to doubts the bad debt situation can be easily solved.

“The government’s approach to restructuring its banking sector is considerably different from what is generally considered as good practice,” the World Bank said.

The level of success that can be achieved by the VAMC is subjective, since the real ratio of NPLs in the clogged and opaque banking system remains a mystery.

In a report to parliament in May, the government referred to a bad debt ratio of 4.51 percent, but that estimate was derived from data from the banks themselves, some of which could face mandatory supervision or takeover. The SBV estimates NPLs at 6 percent, or $7.8 billion, of outstanding loans of $130 billion.

Independent experts have estimated the ratio could be considerably higher.

Credit ratings agency Fitch said this month that the broad range of NPL estimates came from poor transparency, classification and accounting. The VAMC’s structure meant it simply “buys time for banks to write off losses”, it said.

News of the VAMC’s launch had little impact on Vietnamese banking stocks on Friday, with lenders on the benchmark VN Index unchanged as the broader market closed up 0.4 percent.

Nguyen Ngoc Oanh, a former deputy SBV governor, said more details were needed to assess whether the VAMC could be a success.

“This is a very strange company,” Oanh told Reuters. “If it is buying bad debts, then where is the money coming from?”

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