Cablegate: Vietnam's Economy Q3 2009: Strong Recovery, Continuing Risks

DE RUEHHI #1186/01 3090933
R 050933Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. Vietnam's economic growth during the third quarter
continued to accelerate, aided by the Vietnamese Government's (GVN)
economic stimulus program. Growth of gross domestic product (GDP)
for the first nine months was up 4.6% and is now expected to reach
5.2% for 2009, which will make Vietnam one of few countries with a
positive growth story this year. Exports contracted, however, and
were down 14.3%. Though imports fell by 25.2%, Vietnam's trade
deficit over the first nine months still showed a deficit of $6.5
billion, which has contributed to a drop of about 23.5% in foreign
exchange reserves this year to $17.6 billion. The value of
licenses granted for new or expanded foreign direct investment
(FDI) projects dropped a dramatic 78.6% through the third quarter,
but actual FDI disbursements fell only 11.2% over the same period.
Consumer price inflation has remained under control, up only 4.11%
through the third quarter. While the worst turmoil from the global
financial crisis appears past, on October 30 the GVN announced its
decision to extend its economic stimulus plan (septel) into 2010,
though with a narrowed scope. Balancing the political drive for
growth motivated by the upcoming Party Congress in January 2011
with the need for consumer price stability will remain a difficult
challenge for the GVN in the remaining months of 2009 and 2010.
End summary.

Accelerating Quarterly Growth

2. (U) Vietnam's economy appears to have survived the worst of the
economic crisis. While GDP grew at only 3.1% in the first quarter
of 2009 - the slowest growth in a decade - it accelerated in the
second and third quarters to 4.5% and 5.8%, respectively. Consumer
confidence is on the rise and Vietnam now ranks as the fourth most
confident country in the world, up five places since March this
year, according to a September survey by the Nielsen company. If
growth during the fourth quarter reaches 6.8%, as forecast, the GVN
is likely to meet its target of 5% GDP growth for 2009 and may even
reach the 5.2% estimate of the Ministry of Planning and Investment
(MPI). Though GDP growth is the lowest in a decade, Vietnam has
still outperformed most of its neighbors and is expected to be one
of the few economies in the world with positive growth this year.
Current GDP growth projections for 2010 range from 6.5% (GVN) to
8.5% (Credit Suisse).

Strong but Unbalanced Stimulus Impact

3. (U) Despite Vietnam's apparent strong recovery, many government
officials and economists have expressed concerns about the
sustainability and quality of this growth. Growth has been largely
dependent on real estate and construction investment, partly driven
by the government's stimulus plan. The efficiency of this capital
spending has been subject to criticism. Meanwhile, growth in the
agricultural, forestry and fishery sectors - employing more than
60% population of Vietnam - has lagged behind at 1.6%, while
processing industries have risen modestly at 2%.

4. (U) Benefiting from the stimulus package, construction
experienced an impressive turnaround - from a 0.4% contraction last
year, to 9.7% growth in the first nine months of this year - thanks
to the increase in investment projects in the stimulus package, as
well as to a fall in the prices of construction materials and the
recovery of the real estate market. Anecdotal reports, as well as
testimony in the National Assembly, indicate that while the 4%
interest rate subsidy included in the stimulus package was not
intended for real estate development, this subsidy played an
important role in fostering growth in the real estate sector
through freeing up funds in many large corporations. Meanwhile,
industrial production through the third quarter grew by 6.5%, of
which, mining production rose by 9.8%, manufacturing by 6.1%, and
electricity, gas and water by 10.2%.

5. (U) Growth in consumer spending and the service sector has also
played a key role in the recovery of the economy. Sales of
consumer goods and services for the first nine months rose 18.6%,
at around $47 billion; even discounted for inflation, sales still

HANOI 00001186 002 OF 003

rose 10.2%. Financial services, benefitting from subsidized
interest rates under the stimulus program, grew by 8.1%. Tourism,
however, has suffered from the global downturn and is down by 16%,
with around 2.8 million international visitors during the first
nine months of 2009.

First Export Contraction in 14 Years

6. (U) Exports declined for the first time since 1995, dropping
14.3% during the first nine months to $41.7 billion - a figure
which would have been worse if not for large exports of gold
previously purchased as a hedge against the 23% inflation of 2008.
The GVN's 3% export growth target for 2009 is now considered out of
reach, and an annual contraction of between six and nine percent is
likely, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT).
The MPI forecasts an export contraction of as much as 10%. This
contraction has been caused by price - not volume - declines
following the fall in global commodity prices, especially for
agricultural and mineral products. Had commodity prices not
plunged, Vietnam would likely have seen 1-2% growth over this same
period. Export volume increased 10.7% through the third quarter,
with most exports up over the past nine months, including: crude
oil (up 8.6%), rice (up 34%), coffee (up 14%), pepper (up 52%), and
cassava (up 194%). Export prices, however, fell by 22.5% over the
same period.

Losing Control of the Trade Deficit and Forex Reserves?

7. (U) Vietnam's trade deficit through the third quarter was
reduced to 41.2% of the deficit for the same period last year, down
to $6.5 billion. This was largely because imports were down 25.2%
to $48.3 billion, due to both price and volume factors. However,
the third quarter alone contributed $4.5 billion to the deficit
(almost 70%) and this suggests growth in the trade deficit may be
accelerating as the economy picks up. Except for wheat and
pharmaceuticals, imports of all leading products fell, including:
oil and petrol (down 52.6%), iron and steel (down 35.5%),
automobiles (down 23.9%), clothes (down 8.7%), and materials for
textile and footwear industries (down 23.7%).

8. (U) Because of the trade deficit, reduced foreign investment,
and decreased overseas remittances, Vietnam's foreign currency
reserves have fallen dramatically from $23 billion in December 2008
to about $17.6 billion in June 2009, according to Asian Development
Bank estimates (GVN figures are not made available). The forex
market remains fragile, with a lack of dollar liquidity and a
continuing lack of confidence in the Vietnamese Dong (VND), given
historically high inflation rates. Rationing its forex reserves,
the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has kept tight control of dollars
needed to finance imports and has restricted the official USD-VND
trading band to five percent around the official reference rate.
At the same time, exporters have held on to their dollar
receivables because of concerns regarding inflation and potential
depreciation. The VND continues to trade at the weaker end of the
official trading band.

9. (U) As a result, the SBV is tapping International Finance
Institutions (IFIs) and donor countries for overseas development
assistance (ODA) to support its forex reserves. In the past
months, the GVN has announced some $5 billion in planned borrowing
to support its forex reserves, including: $1 billion per year in
"soft loans" from Japan for 2010-2012; $1 billion from the World
Bank; $500 million from the ADB; as well as and an additional $500
million loan from Japan.

FDI Likely to Meet Target Despite Downturn

10. (U) The estimated total future value of licenses for new

HANOI 00001186 003 OF 003

licensed or expanded FDI projects approved during the first three
quarters is down 78.6% at $12.6 billion, with newly licensed
projects falling 85.7% to $7.7 billion. However, additional
investment licenses issued for existing projects increased slightly
by .07% to $4.9 billion, suggesting that existing investors remain
optimistic about their prospects in Vietnam. Because the GVN
relies primarily on FDI commitments as measured by the estimated
total future value of licensed projects, official FDI numbers are
hard to confirm and often dramatically overstate the real
investment likely to be realized in the foreseeable future,
particularly in the area of hospitality investments. Despite the
uncertainty in official FDI figures, however, Vietnam remains an
attractive destination for foreign investors in general and
American investors in particular. As of the end of the third
quarter, the US was Vietnam's largest investor in 2009, accounting
for 79.1% of total value of FDI licenses issued. Vietnam appears
likely to reach, on paper, its 2009 target of $20 billion worth of
licenses issued for FDI projects by October, if one includes the
recently announced $4.15 billion resort in Quang Nam and the $2
billion new town project in Dong Nai.

Inflation Restrained, But Pressure Mounting for 2010

11. (U) Average CPI during the first nine months of 2009 rose by
4.11%, but has accelerated recently, rising 0.62% in the month from
August to September. The GVN still projects annual inflation will
remain within 7% for 2009 and has stated that inflation is not a
concern in the short term. However, price pressures will likely
mount in the medium and long term as the government's stimulus
package, particularly the 4% interest rate subsidy on various types
of bank lending, increases credit growth and economic activity.
Other factors, including a proposed increase in minimum wages and
the recovery of world commodity prices in 2010, will also likely
create inflationary pressure next year.

Growing Government Debt

12. (U) Besides the threat of inflation, there are concerns about
how Vietnam will finance its increasing budget deficit. As a
result of tax cuts and deferments under the stimulus package,
government revenue has dropped while spending has risen. Vietnam's
budget deficit is expected to widen from 4.1% of GDP in 2008 to
10.1% of GDP in 2009, according to ADB predictions; the GVN itself
estimates a deficit of 6.9%. At the same time, the GVN has held
five failed government bond offerings this year and Vietnam's
government debt is forecast by the National Assembly Budget and
Finance Committee to rise to 40% of GDP in 2009, up from 36.5% in
2008, and increasing to 44% of GDP in 2010.


13. (SBU) Given the global economic environment, the Vietnamese
economy has performed remarkably well in 2009 and it is likely the
GVN will achieve its (revised) 2009 GDP growth target. At the same
time, the GVN leadership will feel pressure to reach politically
significant short-term economic growth targets in the run-up to the
upcoming 11th National Congress of the Communist Party in 2011,
which may complicate efforts to ensure macroeconomic stability.
The recent decision to extend the stimulus package, albeit in
narrower form, despite warnings from a number of economists that
rapid credit growth will fuel inflation, suggests that political
considerations are foremost in current macroeconomic policymaking.

14. (U) This message was coordinated with Consulate Ho Chi Minh

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


UN: Bachelet Alarmed By Number Of Palestinian Children Killed In Latest Escalation

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet today expressed alarm at the high number of Palestinians, including children, killed and injured in the occupied Palestinian territory this year, including in intense hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza last weekend... More>>

Save The Children: One Year Under Taliban Rule, Girls Are More Isolated, Hungry, Sad: New Report
One year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, an economic crisis, crippling drought and new restrictions have shattered girls’ lives, excluding them from society and leaving them hungry...

Palestinian Ministry of Health: Developments In The Health Situation During The Israeli Aggression On The Cities & Governorates Of The Gaza Strip
For the second day in a row, the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip continues by targeting overcrowded residential areas and neighborhoods, as the death toll rose to 13 citizens, including a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman... More>>

Somalia: ‘We Cannot Wait For Famine To Be Declared; We Must Act Now’
Rising acute food insecurity in Somalia has caused more than 900,000 people to flee their homes in search of humanitarian assistance since January last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned... More>>

UN: American West Faces Water And Power Shortages Due To Climate Crisis
Two of the largest reservoirs in the United States are at dangerously low levels due to the climate crisis and overconsumption of water, which could affect water and electricity supply for millions in six western states and Mexico, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned on Tuesday... More>>

Singapore: UN Experts Call For Immediate Moratorium On Executions For Drug Offences

UN experts* today condemned the execution of Nazeri Bin Lajim, a 64-year-old Malay Singaporean national convicted of drug offenses and urged the Government of Singapore to halt plans to execute individuals on death row for drug related charges... More>>