Investors looking to frontier markets for broader diversification opportunities might want to review trends in the Mekong Delta region, where a number of factors are providing an atmosphere for growth.
According to Oliver Bell, portfolio manager, Middle East and Africa and global frontier markets equities strategies for T. Rowe Price, there’s plenty of potential for rewards in the Greater Mekong Region, a development project formed by the Asian Development Bank in 1992 that has united the six states that make up the region: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan Province. In particular, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar have benefited from a substantial increase in inflows of foreign direct investment.
While Vietnam experienced a slowdown a few years ago, more recently, stabilization in its economy has stimulated not just greater business confidence but renewed interest by investors. At the end of 2014, the country’s General Statistics Office said that fourth-quarter GDP increased 6.96% from a year ago. Its currency was upgraded and a recent bond market offering was so much in demand that it was 10 times oversubscribed.
Bell said in research that banks in Vietnam are being forced by the government and the central bank to recognize nonperforming loans properly, and that state-owned enterprise reforms are also being enacted. In an e-mail interview, he expanded on that.
“Vietnam is emerging from a credit boom and bust of its own making and the legacy of that is a nonperforming loan (NPL) problem,” Bell said. “Hence stability of the banking system is key; there’s a greater focus on inflation and conservative credit growth, the government is encouraging mergers between strong and weaker banks, as well as opening the door to foreign banks to acquire more than the current 30% foreign limit in the weaker banks.”
Improvement in the property market could push that NPL problem to the back burner, however. Bell pointed out, “There is continued optimism that the property prices have stabilized and are indeed slowly picking up. This is crucial for the banking system as it allows them to get their arms fully around the NPL problem, and may even reverse some if property prices continue to escalate.”