Bankers strong, businesses weak
In a healthy economy, banks pump capital into production. After production generates profits, capital is returned back to banks which then lend to businesses to create bigger profits. This means that there always exists a close link between the production and the capital, between enterprises and bankers.
However, a strange thing is occurring in Vietnam: while a lot of businesses have gone bankrupted in the big economic difficulties, bankers still stay safe from the crisis.
A lot of businesses have reported bad business performance for 2011 and loss in this year’s shareholders’ meeting season. Meanwhile, most banks have reported big losses at shareholders’ meetings.
Dr Le Dat Chi from the HCM City Economics University said that for a long time, the banking system has not paid much attention to lending to the production sector. Instead, they have been pouring capital into the stock market and real estate market which can bring higher profits and faster capital turnover
Chi said that when the banking system cannot support the development of businesses, this means that the national economy suffers from diseases and it needs prescription to treat the diseases.
In fact, the State Bank has admitted that there are some weak banks which need to be restructured. Some economists have suggested that it would be better to let the banks get bankrupted. In principle, bank is also a business, and like other types of businesses, banks should also be dissolved when they do not have capability.
Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Director of the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program, has warned that the determination by the government not to let any banks go bankrupted and any bankers lose their stockholder equity may create a “reverse effect.”
The merger of the first three banks in Vietnam, which was announced in late 2011, was a typical example. In this case, the owners of the banks did not lose their stockholder equity. Especially, they have even got the capital pumped by the State Bank. This would prompt other banks to follow the move.
“As a result, the action by the State Bank may erode the confidence on the banking system and the national economy,” Tu Anh said.
A question has been raised about who would “take on” the weak banks which need restructuring. In other countries in the world, the governments would spend money to buy stakes of banks to obtain the right to control the banks. After the banks can make profits, the governments would resell the banks to investors. Meanwhile, it proves to be unfeasible to call on investors to spend money to take over the banks which have been in bad conditions.
Some big banks have stated that they are ready to receive smaller banks if they are requested, or to cooperate with other banks for a better development. Dang Van Thanh, President of Sacombank, has affirmed that Sacombank has got ready for the cooperation deals. Ten years ago, Thanh Thang Bank was successfully merged into Sacombank.
The government has announced it may consider allowing foreign credit institutions to buy Vietnamese banks and raise the foreign ownership ratio limits at the banks.
Nevertheless, Le Xuan Nghia, a well-known financial analyst, has warned that it would be very difficult to call for foreign investment into weak banks.
In fact, merger is chosen by banks only when they cannot find other feasible solutions, because they would have to undergo very complicated procedures to be merged into others, while the legal framework on the issue still shows many problems.
Some banks have decided to cooperate with other banks in some fields, rather than wholly merging into others. ACB, for example, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Standard Chartered Bank on a cooperation plan, under which ACB’s personal clients would enjoy many benefits and services of the bank.