Vietnam’s top economic events in 2012

The low CPI rise, the first trade surplus in 20 years, and the suspected price transfers/ tax evasion are among the economic highlights of 2012.

1. Lower CPI rise than expected

Looking back in 2012, the consumer price index (CPI) increased by only 6.81 per cent compared with 2011, lower than the 11.75 per cent year on year rise in 2010 and an 18.13 per cent surge in 2011.

The price index in 2012 witnessed many fluctuations.

CPI increase was not too high in the first two months of the year, normally the high time for CPI rise, but the highest increase was in September with a 2.2 per cent increase, primarily due to the impact of the drugs/medical services and educational groups.

Another surprise is the CPI does not decrease after the Lunar New Year in 2012 but fell in the two months in the middle of the year.

2. Unexpected trade surplus for the first time after 20 years

Not only is the CPI unexpectedly low, the $248 million trade surplus in 2012 is not what experts predict this year.

Foreign-invested firms in Vietnam exported $12 billion more than they imported while local firms imported $11.7 billion more than they exported.

Shrinking domestic demand for imported machinery and equipment due to the stagnation in the operation of local businesses is the main cause.

The direct impact of the surplus is that the average interbank foreign exchange rate between the US dollars and Vietnam dong still hold in the VND20,828 a US dollar mark set by the beginning of the year.

2012 is also the first year the national foreign exchange reserve reached the standard of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of about 12 weeks of imports of the economy, or over $20 billion, with the help of the surplus.

3. Numerous businesses in trouble

In 2012, there were about 55,000 firms having been dissolved, leaving millions of workers unemployed. The number of newly established enterprises reached up to 65,000, down 10 percent and 8.4 per cent in number and registered capital respectively compared to the same period in 2011.

However, experts said that some 10,000 enterprises of them were just simply new forms of the dissolved companies. They now took on new names to access bank loans.

Combined with the number in 2011, this number was at nearly 110,000, accounting for half of dissolutions since the economic reform took place at the end of 1980s. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) said this was one of the darkest periods for Vietnamese enterprises.

In May, the government issued Resolution 13 with solution package worth VND29 trillion including VAT tax arrears, land rent reduction, and debt restructuring.

Last December, the government continued to announce a rescue package new worth tens of trillions with focus on reducing taxes and lowering interest rates.

4. Bad time for banking, securities and real estate

Those operating in securities, banking and real estate have passed their heyday. Mounting bad debts in the real estate sector has a profound influence on the local banking system.

Bad debts accounted for 8.82 per cent of total outstanding loans, equivalent to nearly VND240 trillion, the highest ever.

As of 3rd quarter of 2012, 56 out of 100 securities companies reported losses.

There were three securities companies which voluntarily left the playground, withdrawing from membership of two stock trading floors - Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX) and Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HoSE).

The handling of weak banks, besides the long-term restructuring of the system, is hurriedly taking place with 5 of 9 weak banks having almost completed the restructuring process.

According to the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), the banking system's credit growth was 4.85 per cent in the first 11 months of the year. This is the first time since 1992 that credit growth was in single digits, compared with an average 28 per cent in the last 10 years.

5. Scandals of big foreign firms

In the last month of the year, the public was angered by reports of suspected price transfers/ tax evasion cases worth from tens to hundreds of billions of dong committed by big foreign names like Coca-Cola, Adidas, and PepsiCo.

According to the preliminary conclusions of tax authorities, such cases actually lasted for years.

The public are now raising doubts about the real contributions of the foreign companies operating in Vietnam.

6. Slowdown in foreign capital inflows

Foreign direct investment (FDI) and official development assistance (ODA) continued their downward trend after a 26 per cent drop in FDI and a slight decrease in ODA in 2010.

Realised FDI in 2012 reached $10.46 billion, down 4.9 per cent from 2011, with the registered capital of $12.72 billion, down 22.39 per cent.

ODA commitments for 2013 are at only $6.5 billion, down 12.2 per cent compared to 2012.

7. State enterprises struggling for restructuring

By the end of 2011, liabilities of state-owned enterprises were up to VND1.29 trillion ($62 million), including VND287 trillion of PVN, VND275 trillion of EVN and VND71 trillion of Vinacomin.

The 2011 losses of EVN, Petrolimex, and Vinalines were at VND2.59 trillion, VND2.39 trillion and VND791 billion, respectively.

Those state-owned enterprises have been required to restructure themselves, and exit non-core businesses.

8. Government determined to revive economy

The price for fiscal and monetary tightening to control inflation in 2011-2012 is the dragging of economic growth at only 5.03 per cent in 2012, lower than the target of 6 to 6.5 per cent by the National Assembly.

At the National Assembly meeting Session XIII, the Prime Minister frankly acknowledged the existing problems and apologized for weaknesses in macro-economic management.

The issue of interest groups was recognised.

The proposals to increase base salary, to reduce VAT for businesses, cut land rent by 50 per cent, to delay deadline to pay corporate income tax by nine months, and to increase the taxable personal income threshold to VND9 million a month are among the measures the government took to revive the economy.

The National Assembly passed the government's proposals on the adjustment of the minimum wage from VND1.05 million a month to VND1.15 million a month. From January 1, 2013, the minimum wage will be from VND1.65 million to VND2.35 million per month.

The personal income tax proposal has also been approved and is applicable in 2013.

9. High-profile business leaders arrested

Former board chairman of the state-owned Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), Duong Chi Dung, was indicted in the middle of May for deliberately acting against state regulations. After escaping from Vietnam, Dung was captured in foreign country and was brought back to Vietnam in early October. He was extradited to Hanoi on October 5.

In August, the banking industry was in a tremendous shock as former leaders of Asian Joint Stock Bank (ACB), Nguyen Duc Kien, a famous tycoon, and Ly Xuan Hai, were arrested due to their own faults, which is also in related to mega fraud caused by Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu in 2011.

The total capitalisation of the stock market in three sessions after Kien’s arrest plummeted by VND80 trillion ($3.85 billion).

10. Son La hydroelectric power plant in operation

On December 23, the Son La hydroelectric plant officially joined the national grid after 37 years of survey and development mired in controversy over dam safety and environmental impact.

With more than VND60 trillion invested, the Son La plant holds the record as having the biggest water reservoir. It came into operation 3 years earlier than scheduled, making it the project with the earliest completion time ahead of target. It is expected to generate $500 million revenue annually, saving more than five million tonnes of coal in equivalence.

With a capacity of 2,400MW a year, the largest hydropower project in Southeast Asia is also expected to help avoid power shortages to meet electricity demand in 2013.

Source Tuoitrenews