2010: Slow year, but the rich get richer

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The country could have its first stockholding billionaire this year

Passengers walk past the Vincom Center in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Vincom stock, which trades under the symbol VIC, surged 60 percent in the last three months of 2010.

A generally sluggish market last year did not stop some stockholders from getting super rich.

In fact, as the wealth record on the stock market is broken every year, the country is now really close to having its first dollar billionaire.

Pham Nhat Vuong, board member of both Vinpearl JSC and Vincom JSC, came in as No. 1 on the list of richest people on the stock market for the first time. As of the end of 2010, his stockholdings were valued at more than VND16.2 trillion (US$830 million), according to data compiled by Thanh Nien.

Vuong was followed by Doan Nguyen Duc, chairman of Hoang Anh Gia Lai, and Dang Thanh Tam, chairman of Kinh Bac Urban Development. Their stock holdings were worth around VND11.3 trillion and VND9.5 trillion respectively.

Together, the ten richest investors on the market owned more than VND52 trillion ($2.66 billion) worth of stock, up 30 percent from the previous year. This is around 10 percent of the total capitalization of Vietnam's stock market.

The gap between people on the rich list has widened significantly. Of the holdings by the top ten last year, 70 percent were held by the top three.

Millionaire boom

Local news website VnExpress, which compiles and publishes its own annual list of richest people on the stock market annually, said the number of dollar millionaires in 2010 increased by 50 percent to 450 people.

It said as the market has regained its momentum, the country is likely to have its first billionaire based on stock holdings this year.

The benchmark VN-Index lost around 2 percent in 2010. Until the final weeks of the year, the market had been generally in a downturn mode. But local stocks began rising in early December, helping the index recover a large part of its losses during the year.

"The global economy pulled out of crisis in 2010, but most companies in the country and the world still faced many difficulties doing business," VnExpress said in a report. "The stock market did not have enough boost to bring it to the high level of three years ago."

Under such a circumstance, not all investors could manage to become richer.

"Holdings by most people in the top 100 dropped considerably compared to a year ago," the report said. While total holdings of the top 100 increased 30 percent, 32 investors fell out of the chart mainly due to declines in stock prices.

Among those who checked out of the list was Le Van Dung, the former chairman of Vien Dong Pharma who was arrested in November in the country's first share-price manipulation case.

Real estate domination

Last year's rich list is dominated by real estate moguls, with the top three positions held by leaders of large real estate firms.

Although the local real estate market itself did not have a good year, its stocks still proved appealing to many investors.

Vuong rose to the top position mainly because Vincom stock which trades under the symbol VIC enjoyed a 60 percent surge in just the last three months of the year.

The company began sales of several residential projects in 2010 while its existing office and apartment buildings continued to generate stable income.

VnExpress cited experts as saying there was a "whirlwind" of real estate stocks in 2010, with 30 property firms listing for the first time and some getting a lot of interest from investors.

Dang Hong Anh, chairman of Sacomreal, the real estate trading arm of Sacombank, said many companies believed they are out of the woods and wanted to list their shares on the bourse in an effort to strengthen their brand name and boost transparency.

Economist Le Tham Duong, however, said the listing race among real estate companies was in fact driven by the need for more capital. "They were stuck with no other choice so they rushed to list," he said.

Duong said as certain difficulties in the economy are likely to remain, local companies will continue to try and raise capital through share issues this year.

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