Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Vietnam youth look to future on war anniversary

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — In the peaceful shade of a park across from Vietnam's Reunification Palace, young lovers enjoy a quiet time alone and students study.

They know only from history what happened at the palace 34 years ago this Thursday, when communist tank number 843 smashed through the wrought iron gates to end decades of war and reunify the country on April 30, 1975.

Two-thirds of Vietnam's population is younger than 35, with no memory of war, its threat of sudden death, and its hardships.

The young people who have grown up through years of peacetime economic growth say their focus is on the fast-developing country's progress.

"I am proud to be a Vietnamese, as we could defeat major powers like the French and the Americans. But I don't think many people now, especially the young ones, want to talk much about what happened in the past," says Tran Mi Lan, 22, selling clothes at a shopping centre in Vietnam's southern commercial capital, formerly known as Saigon.

"I want Vietnam in the next 20 years to become another Singapore," says Nguyen Cong Truong, 28, an investment consultant.

With a per capita income of just over 1,000 dollars, about 37 times lower than Singapore's, Vietnam has a long way to go.

Most people still work as farmers and in Ho Chi Minh City the motorcycle, not the car, rules the road.

But, occasionally, a Ferrari or a Porsche can be seen, and the city's tidy Dong Khoi street -- known as "Tu Do" during the war -- has started to look like a tiny piece of Singapore, with boutiques selling designer fashions and other luxury goods.

Banners bearing the communist hammer and sickle have gone up to mark the April 30 national holiday.

The battle against American forces and their surrogate regime in then South Vietnam began in the early 1960s, costing at least three million Vietnamese and 58,000 American lives before it ended on April 30, 1975 when that first North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of the south's presidential palace.

Earlier Vietnamese resistance against French colonisers began in 1946 and continued for eight years until France's defeat at Dien Bien Phu led to the country's division.

"My parents told me that in 1968 life was very difficult and many people had to live on cassava," said Truong, whose mother and father still work the land in southern Tay Ninh province, earning just over 100 dollars a month.

Truong says he makes up to six times that much.

"I was born in peacetime. I have the chance to perfect my abilities," says another young man, Le The Huan, 20, a law student sitting in the park with a portable computer in his lap and an iPod beside him.

Even his parents did not talk much about the war, he said, because they were only 12 and 13 years old when it ended.

"I think that my life now, of course, is much better than my parents', materially," said Tran Trong Nguyen, a post-graduate physics student working on his equations across from the palace, which is now a museum.

"We have more opportunity for study, health care, education, and life now is more stable compared with the past," said Nguyen, also the son of farmers.

Dang Thi Bich Nga, 21, left her home in central Vietnam to study economics in Ho Chi Minh City, which she says has opened "so many opportunities".

She wants the same for Vietnam.

"I hope that my country can develop as far as other countries," Nga says, with earrings dangling.

They may be focused on the present and the future, but young people are aware of the sacrifices made by previous generations, says Pham Thanh Cong, 52.

"The majority of them will never turn their backs on what happened in the past, as history is undeniable," Cong says.

He spent five years as a communist fighter and is now director of the My Lai museum honouring hundreds of villagers massacred by US troops in 1968.

"I am devoted to this museum because I want the young ones to know more about the war crimes," Cong says.

But one man, a 27-year-old information technology manager who refused to be named, said the blood of those who died for Vietnam's independence is worthless unless authorities become more "transparent, less corrupt and act more for the country".

Nguyen Hoang Quan, 28, agreed the country will have to change politically for it to prosper.

"I hope the leadership will be more open so that Vietnam will develop quicker," said Quan, a security guard who wants a better job "with more money".

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Vietnam Sacombank Q1 net profit down 17 pct on year

HANOI, April 29 (Reuters) - Vietnam's Sacombank STB.HM, 10 percent owned by Australia's ANZ (ANZ.AX), said on Wednesday its net profit in the first quarter of 2009 dipped 17 percent from a year before to 297 billion dong ($16.7 million).

The Ho Chi Minh City-based bank also said in a quarterly report its unaudited gross profit in the January-March period dropped nearly 5 percent from the same period last year to 392 billion dong.

The bank did not provide reasons for the decline in earnings but state media said Sacombank incurred a loss of 75 billion dong from equity investments in the first quarter.

Shares in the country's sixth-largest lender by assets rose 800 dong, or 4 percent, to 21,000 dong at 0352 GMT on Wednesday.

Last month Sacombank shareholders approved the bank's target of credit growth of 50 percent this year to 50 trillion dong and the aim of keeping overdue debts at 2.5 percent of loans.

The lender projected a capital adequacy ratio this year of between 10 percent and 12 percent, above the 8 percent level considered safe for commercial banks.

Sacombank has projected its gross profit would rise 47 percent this year to 1.6 trillion dong after a fall in 2008. [ID:nHAN369575].

ANZ plus the World Bank's International Finance Corp and Dragon Capital together own 30 percent of Sacombank, the ceiling for foreign ownership of listed banks in Vietnam. ($1=17,780 dong) (Reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam; Editing by Alan Raybould)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Vietnam's SeABank says 2008 net profit rises 7.4 pct

HANOI, April 28 (Reuters) - Vietnam's SeABank, 15 percent owned by France's Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), said on Tuesday its net profit last year rose 7.4 percent to 321 billion dong ($18 million) despite losses from currency trading and securities.

The unlisted Hanoi-based SeABank, or Southeast Asia Bank, was able to record a profit thanks to a surge in fees from services and commissions last year to 114.37 billion dong, from 10.8 billion dong in 2007, its statement of audited results said.

Losses from foreign exchange trading stood at nearly 17 billion dong last year after a profit of 1.4 billion dong in 2007 and investment in securities incurred losses of 77.5 billion dong against a gain of 27.7 billion dong in 2007.

Vietnam's stock market .VNI lost 66 percent in 2008 after a rise of 23 percent the previous year.

SeABank said its total assets last year fell 14.4 percent to 22.47 billion dong after loans dropped 31.3 percent to 7.58 trillion dong.

Vietnam's banking sector reported credit growth of around 22 percent last year after a surge of 54 percent in 2007. The State Bank of Vietnam has projected credit growth this year at between 21 and 23 percent. ($1=17,760 dong) (Reporting by Ho Binh Minh; Editing by Alan Raybould)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Officials of Vietnam's Defence Ministry visits US carrier

Officials of the Vietnamese Defence Ministry on April 22 paid a first-ever visit to a US aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), one of the biggest US Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which anchored in East Sea international waters around 250 miles to the south of Vietnam’s Con Dao Island.

Navy Rear Admiral Mark Vance warmly welcomed the Vietnamese guests. The Vietnamese mission toured the carrier’s air traffic room, the observatory, holds for aircrafts, and witnessed the fighter aircraft F/A-18F Super Hornet take off and land on the CVN 74 carrier. They also talked with sailors on the vessel.

Colonel Nguyen Huu Vinh, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnamese Navy, said that the visit strengthened mutual understanding between the two naval forces and paved the way for cooperation for peace in the region and the world.

Also joining the visit, US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak said he believes that this is a new step in the development of the relationship between the two naval forces.

The USS John C. Stennis carrier was launched in 1995 and is one of the ten-largest carriers of the US Navy. The ship is 333m in length, 78m in width, and can hold 74 fighter aircrafts.


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Vietnam's April crude output down 2 pct from March

HANOI, April 24 (Reuters) - Vietnam's crude output this month was expected to fall 2 percent from March to 345,500 barrels per day (bpd), a government report said on Friday.

The General Statistics Office revised up its estimate of crude output last month to 352,550 bpd from 340,500 originally reported.

January to April crude oil exports, one of Vietnam's main cash earners along with textiles and footwear, are estimated to have risen 20.2 percent to 5.54 million tonnes but that would be down 44.7 percent in value to $1.98 billion due to lower world prices.

State oil monopoly PetroVietnam has forecast average oil output this year would rise 5 percent from 2008 to about 341,400 bpd thanks to new oilfields.

(Reporting by Nguyen Nhat Lam; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Friday, 24 April 2009

Cave in Vietnam may be world's largest

DONG HOI, Vietnam, April 24 (UPI) -- A cave discovered in Vietnam's Quang Binh province may be the largest in the world, a team of British explorers says.

British Cave Research Association explorer Howard Limbert, whose team confirmed the cave's existence, said the possible record-setting cavern is 656 feet high, 492 feet wide and at least 4 miles long, the Vietnam News Service said Friday. The explorer said strong currents and flooding prevented his team from thoroughly exploring the cave.

Previously, the largest known cavern was Deer Cave in Malaysia. The Malaysian cave is 328 feet high, 295 feet wide and 1 mile long, the Saigon Giai Phong newspaper said.

Limbert's team explored the cave in Vietnam's Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in mid-April before confirming its existence and size to the provincial People's Committee on Wednesday.

The Vietnam News Service said Limbert's team was the first group to explore parts of the cave, but an unidentified local resident is credited with its initial discovery 18 years ago.

Limbert said his team would return to Vietnam with more advanced equipment in 2011 to explore further.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Vietnam says four-month trade surplus at $800 mln

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam on Friday estimated it had recorded a trade surplus of 800 million dollars for the first four months of the year as imports dived due to lower demand amid the global downturn.

The figure compares with a record 11.1 billion dollar deficit for the same period last year before the financial crisis fully struck.

The country spent 17.84 billion dollars on imports between January and April, down by 41 percent year-on-year, while exports were almost steady at 18.64 billion dollars, said the General Statistics Office (GSO).

However, the four-month figure is down from the 1.5 billion dollar surplus recorded in the first quarter of 2009.

Vietnam last year posted a record trade deficit of 18 billion dollars, the GSO has said.

GSO figures showed a 27.3 percent year-on-year drop in spending on machinery and production equipment imports in the first four months, while spending on petroleum products was down by 57.3 percent.

Earnings from the sale of crude decreased 44.7 percent year-on-year, but garments and textile shipments rose by 1.8 percent, it said.

A large portion of Vietnam's earnings in the period came from the export of gold, which made 2.5 billion dollars, more than 40 times the amount during the same period last year, the GSO estimated.

Large quantities of gold were imported during last year's soaring inflation, "and now there is so much gold that gold is flowing out," the World Bank's acting country director, Martin Rama, has said.

GSO added that preliminary figures for Vietnam's industrial production during the period showed an increase of 3.3 percent to about 11.6 billion dollars.

Production from the state sector was almost steady while both the non-state and foreign-invested sectors showed an increase, it said.

Last year, Vietnam's economy expanded by 6.18 percent, its lowest level in almost a decade.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said this month that the economy will pick up and could achieve between five and 5.5 percent growth this year. First-quarter growth was 3.1 percent, the lowest on record.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

Vietnam's human rights report publicised

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made public on its website the National Report to Review Implementation of Human Rights in Vietnam.

The 22-page report will be presented to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on May 8.

The report covers basic information about Vietnam, protection and promotion of human rights at the national level, including civil rights, political rights, socio-economic, and cultural rights, and rights of vulnerable groups like children, women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

The report also includes five points concerning implementation of human rights in Vietnam. One states that the public should be put at the centre of the country’s development, and another says that implementation of human rights should not be separated from national independence and national sovereignty.

The report says the State of Vietnam considers humans the target and motivation of all socio-economic development policies, and persists in assuring and promoting human rights.

According to the report, after more than 20 year of national renewal, Vietnam has gained many important socio-economic achievements.

All economic sectors have been given a boost to develop, thus considerably contributing to national development.

On civil and political rights, the report shows that since 1986, Vietnam has issued and revised 13,000 legal documents and sub-documents in connection with civil and political rights.

Regarding the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and information and other rights of the Vietnamese people, the report indicates that by the end of last year, the country had more than 700 press agencies, nearly 15,000 journalists, 68 television and radio stations and 80 online newspapers, thousands of news websites and blogs and 55 publishing houses.

According to the report, Vietnam now has about 20 million people following different religions and 80 percent of people have religious belief in lives. The State of Vietnam considers religion and belief a legitimate demand of people. There are 12 religions in total, the most dominant of which are Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism. Religious activities and services, especially annual ceremonies, are held with the participation of hundreds of thousands of followers.

See the full report here

Voice of Vietnam

Talisman to invest $1.1 bln in Vietnam

HANOI (AFP) — Talisman Energy plans to invest 1.1 billion US dollars for exploration and development of two oil fields off Vietnam, the company said Friday.

The money will fund the drilling of further exploration wells and development of the Hai Su Den (HSD) and Hai Su Trang (HST) fields, a Talisman Vietnam spokesman told AFP without providing further details.

"We are delighted with the discoveries at HSD and HST," the company's chief representative, Michael Horn, said in a speech in Hanoi on Wednesday.

He added that 400 million dollars have already been invested in the project.

Earlier this week, Thang Long Joint Operating Co., in which Talisman Energy holds a 60 percent stake, said the fields will have their first commercial oil flow in September 2011.

PetroVietnam Exploration Production, or PVEP, holds the remaining 40 percent stake in the Thang Long venture.

Hai Su Trang was tested in December 2006 with an oil flow of 15,000 barrels a day, while tests on Hai Su Den in January 2009 showed an oil flow of 21,000 barrels a day, PVEP said.

Vietnam's state-run oil and gas giant, PetroVietnam, signed a contract with Talisman Energy in 2005 to search for oil and gas on the continental shelf off Vung Tau city in southern Vietnam.

- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this story -

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Vietnam to Tap Emergency Reserves to Help Pay for Stimulus


HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- Vietnam will tap national emergency reserves and step up collection of unpaid corporate taxes to help pay for the country's $8 billion in stimulus packages, a senior Finance Ministry official said Thursday.

Do Hoang Anh Tuan, Vietnam's vice minister of finance, said the country also has a small budget deficit, enabling Vietnam to increase spending without jeopardizing the country's macroeconomic stability.

The country's stimulus package "is a lot of spending, indeed," he said, especially at a time when government revenues are declining due to the weakened economy. But the public can be "confident" that Vietnam will maintain macroeconomic stability, he said.

Some analysts have questioned whether Vietnam can afford its stimulus packages, which were introduced earlier this year and include tax cuts and assistance to banks designed to help the country offset a huge drop in demand for many of its key exports, which include garments, furniture and seafood.

To date, the country's economy has held up better than some other neighboring Asian economies that likewise rely heavily on exports, including Thailand and Singapore, both of which are currently suffering outright contractions of gross domestic product.

But growth in Vietnam has slowed significantly in recent months. The country's economy grew 3.1% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the previous year, after expanding more than 6% in 2008 and more than 8% in 2007. The government projects that growth will rebound later this year but some private economists have said they believe such forecasts are too optimistic.

Mr. Tuan was speaking at the Asia Society's Asian Corporate Conference in Ho Chi Minh City, which is organized together with The Wall Street Journal Asia.

Mr. Tuan said the government was pursuing other strategies beyond the stimulus packages to help maintain growth. The government is also working to boost transparency in its economy and offer more support for the poor, he said. He said that even though the government is offering tax exemptions to further boost growth, the government can offset some of the lost revenue by clearing out "backlogs" of unpaid corporate taxes.

The Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Vietnam inflation cools to 9.2 percent in April

Associated Press, 04.22.09, 07:23 AM EDT

Vietnam's inflation rate eased to 9.2 percent in April as telecommunications and transportation costs fell, the government said Wednesday.

Last month, the consumer price index rose 11.3 percent, cooling from 14.8 percent in February. Inflation of 23 percent in 2008 was the highest in 17 years.

As part of efforts to curb rising prices and stimulate the economy, the government has cut import tariffs and taxes on various consumer products several times this year.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung this week predicted that the inflation rate would fall to 6 percent in 2009.

Inflation in April was driven mainly by increases in the cost of food, beverages, home appliances and garments and textiles, said the General Statistics Office, which often issues the data before the end of the month based on estimates.

Vietnam's economy expanded 6.2 percent last year, the lowest level in nearly a decade and down from 8.5 percent in 2007, but still one of the world's fastest growth rates.

Japan's FamilyMart seeks growth in Vietnam

TOKYO, April 22 (Reuters) - Japan's third-largest convenience store chain, FamilyMart Co Ltd (8028.T), said it plans to open its first store in Vietnam, targeting growth in Southeast Asia as it faces weak prospects in its mature home market.

It will be the first major Japanese convenience store chain to enter Vietnam, as FamilyMart and rivals like Seven-Eleven look overseas amid a gloomy outlook in Japan due to an ageing population and a saturated market with over 40,000 stores.

FamilyMart said on Wednesday it plans to set up a joint venture with Vietnamese distribution company Phu Thai and open a store in Ho Chi Minh City by the end of this year.

The company did not give a target for store numbers but said the pace of openings would likely be similar to what it did in South Korea and elsewhere, which would be around 300 stores in five years.

"Vietnam's population is young, and we see potential in its consumer demand," said FamilyMart spokesman Takashi Shinno.

FamilyMart has been expanding aggressively in Asia, and it has about 4,200 stores in South Korea and 2,300 in Taiwan.

It plans to add 667 stores overseas in the year to February 2010, bringing its total stores abroad to 7,914 and topping the number of stores it has Japan.

Industry leader Seven-Eleven, a unit of Seven & I Holdings (3382.T), and No. 2 Lawson Inc (2651.T) have also been opening more stores in Asian markets, mainly China.

(Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Vietnam communist party chief seeks Japanese investment

TOKYO (AFP) — Vietnam's Communist Party chief on Tuesday pledged to make his country more attractive for Japanese investors, speaking on a four-day visit to boost ties.

"We would like to increase our country's appeal as an investment destination," said the ruling party's general secretary Nong Duc Manh, who met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso late Monday.

"I heartily welcome Japanese companies' investment in Vietnam," he told a luncheon with Japanese business leaders, referring to ongoing bilateral talks on investment rules in Vietnam and a trade pact signed in December.

Manh and Aso issued a joint statement which called on Japan to further promote investment in Vietnam, while asking Hanoi to improve the investment environment.

Japan is Vietnam's second-largest trade partner after China and the Southeast Asian country's second-largest export market after the United States.

Nobuo Katsumata, chairman of both the Japan Foreign Trade Council and trading house Marubeni Corp., said "we can invest in Vietnam with a sense of safety, because the country is full of rich human resources."

"We have to point out that the Vietnamese and the Japanese have something in common in their national characters," he said. "Vietnamese people are very diligent."

More than 800 Japanese companies have invested a total of 17 billion dollars in Vietnam over the years, he said.

Vietnam's economy grew by 6.18 percent last year, its lowest level in almost a decade. The World Bank has projected 5.5 percent expansion for Vietnam in 2009, a better rate than most Asian economies amid the global downturn.

Japan and Vietnam signed an economic partnership pact in December with a promise to cut tariffs on some 92 percent of goods and services traded between the two nations within a decade.