Vietnam’s Economic Growth Slows to 5.76% in First 9 Months

Vietnam’s economic growth slowed in the first three quarters of 2011 after the government pushed up borrowing costs earlier this year in a bid to slow inflation.

For the nine months through September, the economy expanded 5.76 percent, down from 6.54 percent in the first three quarters of 2010, according to figures from the General Statistics Office today. Quarterly figures were not issued.

The State Bank of Vietnam has increased the repurchase, refinancing and discount rates to stem credit growth and slow price gains as the government tried to stabilize the economy. The central bank raised the repurchase rate in nine steps from 7 percent at the start of November last year to 15 percent in May 2011, before cutting it in July to 14 percent.

“It has been a real struggle this year for companies because of interest rates,” said Marc Djandji, director of research at Viet Capital Securities Joint-Stock Co. in Ho Chi Minh City. “It’s very expensive for companies to borrow.”

The State Bank of Vietnam is now aiming to cut commercial lending rates to aid growth while facing inflation of 22.42 percent, the fastest in Asia. Officials from South Korea to the Philippines are also under pressure to support growth as Europe’s debt crisis fuels concern of another global recession.

The benchmark VN Index of stocks fell 2 percent yesterday, while the dong weakened 0.1 percent to 20,832 per dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency was devalued for the fourth time in 15 months on Feb. 11.

Monetary Policy

Monetary policy has been moving “gradually in support of economic growth since late August,” according to Viet Capital Securities. Vietnam has experienced “buoyant” tourism this year, and government spending usually picks up toward the yearend, the Asian Development Bank said this month.

“A lot of companies are complaining about lack of access to capital, but I don’t see any of them going out of business,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist at Mekong Economics in Hanoi. “The economy is plodding along.”

The government has struggled to contain price pressures while supporting growth this year. The inflation rate remains the fastest in a basket of 17 Asian economies tracked by Bloomberg News.

Central Bank

As threats to expansion increased, the State Bank of Vietnam last month began pushing commercial lenders to cut their interest rates even as it left policy rates unchanged. Still the government said on Aug. 25 that the monetary authority will consider reducing policy rates if inflation slows.

“If the government overextends its monetary-policy easing by cutting policy rates, there is a risk of destabilizing the dong,” Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore-based analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, wrote in a note this month.

The government should not cut interest rates too soon as that may raise questions about its commitment to fighting inflation, the International Monetary Fund told a meeting in Hanoi this month attended by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

In the second half, “GDP growth is expected to be modestly ahead of that in the first,” the ADB said. “The government has decided to bring forward increases in minimum wages to Oct. 1, which will support growth in private consumption.”

Industry and Construction

Industry and construction, which accounted for 40.7 percent of the economy, expanded 6.62 percent in the first nine months of the year from a year earlier. The sub-category that measures construction alone grew at 4.91 percent.

Vietnam’s cooling property market has caused an increase in steel inventories, according to U.K.-listed Vietnam Property Fund Ltd. (VPF)

A number of property projects are “in genuine distress,” Vietnam Property Fund said. “Lack of residential sales, slow letting markets in the office and industrial sectors and high interest rates are bringing further desperation to the market.”

Services, which made up 37.8 percent of gross domestic product, grew 6.24 percent in the nine-month period, with financial services expanding at a 6.78 percent clip, while hotels and restaurants grew 6.38 percent.

Vietnam has “a rapidly growing upper middle-class consumer base, and a strong demand for international retail brands,” said San Francisco-based Gap Inc. (GPS), the largest American apparel chain, which plans to begin opening stores in the Asian country this year.

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, which accounted for 21.5 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, grew 2.39 percent in the first nine months.

--Jason Folkmanis in Ho Chi Minh City. Editors: Sunil Jagtiani, Jake Lloyd-Smith, Richard Frost

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Jason Folkmanis in Ho Chi Minh City at +84-91-205-3237 or folkmanis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net

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