Tag Archives: equitisation

Vietnam steps up sale of SOEs

Hopes abound that a new Decree will drag the near-moribund process of privatising large State-owned enterprises (SOEs) into a new and more efficient phase.

 

Over the past 30 years, the restructuring of SOEs has been a key component of Vietnam’s economic reforms under Doi Moi (renovation). The process has been undertaken by successive governments and is a central pillar to creating the business-friendly climate desired by the current leadership.

 

Nevertheless, it remains largely a work in progress. According to a report by the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), since 1992, Vietnam has ‘equitised’ over 4,500 enterprises (‘privatized’ being considered an unsuitable term for Vietnam and not always accurate anyway given the propensity for the State to maintain controlling stakes).  The fact is that many of these took place in a short period of time and were smaller production units of large conglomerate-type corporations.  The CIEM report concluded that progress is below expectations. SOEs have struggled to attract strategic investors and sale of shares has not reduced the level of State budget in SOEs’ charter capital, as was hoped.

 

There are multiple reasons for the disappointing progress including restrictions on foreign ownership, and the State’s desire to maintain ultimate management control.  Opaque valuations and concerns over transparency also deter strategic and other investors from getting involved in the process and ultimately slow it down.

 

To continue growing, Vietnam is under increasing pressure to reform the equitisation process for its SOEs, with new efforts being made to accelerate the government’s divestment. Under plans announced earlier this year, the government will equitise a further 137 SOEs in the 2016-2020 period.  Many of those slated are large and some can be considered the cream of the crop.

 

This renewed motivation is driven in large part by the government’s need to mobilise financial resources to deal with a rising fiscal deficit and public debt. The country’s obligations under a number of free trade agreements also provide impetus to break up the big entities.

 

Determining demand

 

Recently, a significant change was announced in a bid to speed up equitisation of SOEs: the law will change to allow book building as a means of determining interest and price for IPOs of SOEs.

 

Up until now, the equitisation of Vietnam’s SOEs has been handled through public auction, direct negotiation and underwriting. Most have adopted the public auction method, but this has proved unattractive to investors, with even big assets like Vinamilk failing to generate the expected interest.

 

Under new Decree 126/2017/ND-CP, the Prime Minister has instructed the Ministry of Finance to prepare detailed guidelines on implementation of book building to facilitate efficient IPOs as part of the equitisation process.

 

This method of price discovery, used widely internationally and now approved for the first time in Vietnam in connection with equitisation purposes, is expected to make the process more efficient and attractive to strategic investors.  Decree 126 also eases restrictions on the profitability of strategic partners (from three to two years), cuts the lock-in period (from five to three years) and provides more detailed guidance on valuations of SOEs generally (notably removing reference to DCF valuation and providing more clarity around valuation of land use rights and goodwill).

 

It is hoped that this move, to take effect from 1 January 2018, will enhance transparency in SOE equitisation and hasten the hitherto slow listing on the country’s stock exchanges. The Decree will have a particular impact on the next wave of SOE IPOs, slated for 2018-19.

 

Energy giants next?

 

An area in dire need of extensive equitisation is the energy sector. In order to ease electricity shortages, attract more investment and boost economic growth the country will need to tackle inefficient State-owned power actors.

 

The issue of power shortages could come to a head in the next four years, with forecasts predicting that annual growth in electricity consumption will start to match, and possibly outpace, the installed capacity growth. If consumption continues to expand at a similar rate to the last decade (an average of 12 percent a year) the country could soon be facing a power crisis.

 

This gloomy scenario is looking increasingly likely, considering that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 50 percent of total electricity consumption, has doubled over the past four years to reach US$63.1 billion. Luckily for businesses, the government is keen on keeping this development trend going, and having the electricity to power it.

 

Recent reports in the media state that the government has lined up a series of sizable IPOs of major power corporations, including PV Power, EVN Generation Corporation Number 3 (Genco 3) and Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical Company Limited (BSR). If the above projections on power demand growth are anything to go by, Vietnam’s power sector holds significant potential, and may prove an irresistible offer to foreign firms. This offer, however, is contingent on the government breaking up the energy giants and levelling the playing field for investors. Official approval of the book building method for pricing IPOs is a start.

 

PV Power, the country’s second-largest electricity producer, plans to auction a 20 percent stake through its IPO scheduled for the end of this year, and 28.8 percent of shares will be sold to strategic investors. Meanwhile, the equitisation of Genco 3 is awaiting the government’s go-ahead.

 

The changes above demonstrate a willingness to step up the equitisation of SOEs, with looming budget considerations providing a timely incentive. Beginning next year, the slow process may finally gather some much needed pace and see involvement of foreign players previously put off by the state of play.

 

For more information about Vietnam’s equitisation and IPO processes, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Hope and hesitation at M&A forum

Discussion at this year’s Vietnam M&A Forum, which took place earlier this month in Ho Chi Minh City, revolved around the challenges facing Vietnam’s M&A market and the need for a big push to maintain the momentum of previous years.

 

As of this month, deals have fallen short of the record levels in 2016, and surpassing the US$5.8 billion total looks like a tall order. Although impressive, last year’s figure represented just 5% of Southeast Asia’s total M&A activity, with Singapore alone claiming over 50%. Additionally, 64% of the deals in Vietnam were valued at less than US$20 million. While 77% of the deals were domestic, Thai firms were the biggest foreign buyers in terms of value, enacting aggressive takeovers of major Vietnamese firms in retail and consumer goods. In terms of quantity most deals came from Singapore and Japan.

 

With advantages of proximity in terms of geography, culture, and climate, Thai firms have sought to penetrate the growing Vietnamese market quickly. Alongside other neighbouring nations who have struggled as their home markets mature, they have increasingly sought high-growth or low-production-cost economies for expansion elsewhere.

 

There is a lot to celebrate, but the total value of M&A activity reached just US$1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2017, a drop of 24.4 percent year-on-year. A slowdown in the State’s equitisation process is partially to blame for the drop, and many of the speakers at the M&A Forum expressed the need for a big push in the second half of the year.

 

Trains, planes and automobiles

 

To continue the high rate of economic growth achieved over the past few years, the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) concluded that Vietnam is in dire need of M&A investment in the infrastructure sector. Deals need to come in thick and fast across many branches of the economy, with roads, railways, airports and seaports needing upgrades to meet international standards, in addition to the continued expansion of the country’s real estate and retail conglomerates.

 

As well as the increased divestments of State-owned enterprises, Vietnam’s administrative policy framework will need to be improved to attract and accommodate foreign investors.

 

Banking on big deals

 

Besides recent prime ministerial decisions regarding the SOE equitisation process, the government has made a priority of dealing with non-performing loans. This in particular could mean big news for M&A activity in the banking sector.

 

A resolution was recently adopted by the country’s National Assembly, with the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) aiming to reduce the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to below 3 percent by 2020. As part of the resolution, credit institutions, foreign entities and bad debt trading institutions will be able to buy and sell bad debts in an open and transparent way.

 

The move has had a positive impact on banking shares, and recent reports suggest that South Korea’s Shinhan Bank is poised to acquire a financial institution in Vietnam, following its takeover of ANZ Vietnam’s retail business. Two Japanese investors are also negotiating the purchase of stakes in two different Vietnamese financial institutions.

 

Moves like these show that foreign firms appreciate the potential of Vietnamese consumer finance, especially with attempts to unburden the system of its bad debt. StoxPlus, a leading financial and business information corporation in Vietnam, valued the market in 2016 at US$26.55 billion, with an annual growth rate of 30-40%.

 

Japan’s interest is good news for Vietnam’s budding financial sector, which could do with an injection of experience from more established players.

 

So, there is reason to be optimistic. However, participants at the M&A Forum stressed that foreign-ownership limits and the lack of clear regulations in areas attractive to big investors are still obstacles to fulfilling the country’s potential.

 

Dearth of details

 

Foreign investors often bring up the subject of transparency, which remains a big issue. The opaque investment environment can complicate negotiations in Vietnam, and this is particularly true when dealing with equitised state-owned enterprises. Investors are required to make substantial upfront commitments in terms of time and money at the early stages of the bidding process, shouldering significant risks to enter the market.

 

Used to dealing with more sophisticated operations, the financial statements of Vietnamese companies can also fall short of investors’ expectations. There is certainly a need for advisors and consultants, who can help with valuations and due diligence, offsetting some of the risk involved.

 

Until Vietnamese firms grow large enough to regularly participate in substantial cross-border M&A deals, foreign partners will need to make sufficient preparations when it comes to tax and legal requirements. Over time, Vietnamese companies will become more aware of the requirements set forward by investors in M&A transactions, which will generate more deal flow as well as shorten the transaction process.

 

Cause for cautious optimism

 

These complaints aside, the overall impression at the M&A Forum was positive, with some predicting that M&A activities in Vietnam would double or triple over the next five to ten years. With some adjustments it’s certainly possible to surpass 2016’s deal value in the short term, especially if the growth of the consumer retail sector continues to attract the attention of Korean investors. Raising the foreign-ownership limits in Vietnamese banks could also prove to be a tipping point for some big transactions.

 

To maintain momentum over the long term, however, more significant adjustments will be needed. The issues of equitising SOEs, state divestment and the foreign ownership cap will become more urgent as time goes on. The government will need to respond to suggestions and support legal reforms if the country is to attract more M&A capital. Crucially, the efficiency and transparency of the M&A market will need to be improved for foreign investors. Policymakers have promised that further legal reforms are underway and the government is pushing forward with state divestment. Let’s hope they keep to their commitments.

 

For more information about M&A in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Plenty of life in Vietnam’s M&A market despite bumps

Globally, 2017 has been an unpredictable year for the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market, with the hangover of political and economic instability from 2016 inspiring caution among investors.

 

Foreign investment has been put on the back foot due to rising protectionism and the failure of promising free trade deals like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Vietnam in particular has suffered and will need some big breakthroughs to regain lost momentum.

 

Although the TPP would have brought some big benefits to Vietnam, it is expected that other trade deals on the horizon will make up most of the shortfall. The nation has joined six regional FTAs as an ASEAN member, including the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the five FTAs between ASEAN and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as four bilateral FTAs with Chile, Japan, South Korea and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). Negotiations over an FTA with the European Union (EU) have also been concluded.

 Sluggish start

 

Whereas 2016 was an exciting year for M&A in Vietnam, 2017 has gotten off to a slower start. According to a report released in advance of the M&A Forum (August 10, HCMC), deals in Vietnam hit an all-time record of US$5.8 billion in 2016, a growth of 11.92 percent compared to 2015. However, the market has slumped since the latter half of last year with fewer headline signings. The total value of M&A activity reached just US$1.1 billion in the first quarter, a drop of 24.4 percent year-on-year.

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