Vietnam's Premier Confident of 6.7% Growth Without Inflation

(Bloomberg) -- Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he is confident economic growth this year will meet a government goal of 6.7 percent without adding to inflation, despite weak expansion last quarter.

Vietnam is taking steps to bolster the economy as the nation seeks to retain its status as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the premier said in an interview at the Government Office in Hanoi on May 27.

“Main economic indicators in May are all very good with a strong pickup in exports, foreign investment and agriculture production, laying ground for faster growth in the third and fourth quarters,” Phuc said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin. The growth target “is difficult but it is possible”, he added.

The government must balance efforts to spur the economy with ensuring inflation doesn’t exceed its 2017 target of 4 percent, according to Phuc. "We must curb inflation at the mandate number as we have committed to the National Assembly," he said.

Inflation eased to a nine-month low of 3.19 percent in May, the statistics office reported on Monday. Exports rose 17.4 percent in the first five months from a year earlier while pledged foreign direct investment increased 10.4 percent.

The prime minister’s 2017 economic assessment is “realistic,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. Foreign investment will remain strong and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Danang this November will put a positive spotlight on Vietnam, making it more attractive to potential foreign investors, he said.

Phuc said tourism is expected to grow 30 percent this year, agricultural exports will beat the $32 billion shipped last year, and electronics exports are going to surge -- counter forces to the economic headwinds the nation faced in the first quarter. Growth eased to 5.1 percent in the three-month period after Samsung Electronics Co. cut production, underscoring the nation’s reliance on exports.

The benchmark VN Index has risen 12.4 percent this year in Ho Chi Minh City, outpacing the 6.6 percent gain in the Bloomberg Asia Pacific Airlines Index.

Faulty Phone

“The first quarter growth slowed due to a few reasons. Firstly it’s because of a big drop in our crude oil” output, Phuc said. “The second reason is because of the electronics industry -- we suffered a loss of about $1 billion worth of exports from Galaxy Note 7” when Samsung recalled its faulty smartphone last year, he said.

Samsung helped to turn Vietnam into an electronics manufacturing hub almost single-handedly with $15 billion in investments from the technology giant and its affiliates, including battery-maker Samsung SDI Co. The South Korean company is Vietnam’s biggest exporter. Mobile phones and components accounted for 22 percent of Vietnam’s exports last year.

Vietnam's Premier Confident of 6.7% Growth Without Inflation

The government is preparing strategies to increase exports of its two key products -- electronics and agriculture, the prime minister said.

“We have made detailed plans to bolster each industry, down to the product level with thorough studies of different markets to boost exports,” he said. “More importantly, we are taking steps to create a more favorable business climate to support companies.”

In April, the premier called the first-quarter growth “very worrisome” and ordered ministries to find solutions.

‘Doi Moi’

Vietnam, which has completed about 16 free trade agreements, began tethering itself to global trade after introducing market-oriented “doi moi” reforms in the 1980s. Exports surged to a record $177 billion last year, with U.S. customers accounting for about $42 billion of that -- more than double compared with five years ago.

The government is also speeding up the restructuring of its banking sector with stronger reforms in underperforming lenders, according to Phuc. He reiterated Vietnam’s plans to sell out from the more troubled banks.

“We will allow foreign investors to take over those banks if there is anyone interested to buy,” Phuc said.

Vietnam's Premier Confident of 6.7% Growth Without Inflation

Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Photographer: Linh Luong Thai/Bloomberg

Vietnam’s economy grew 6.21 percent in 2016, the second consecutive year of more than 6 percent expansion, defying a regional slowdown.

“I’m quite optimistic about the economic outlook of Vietnam this year,” the premier said.