Banks break rules, forex stability shaken

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Local businesses are accusing commercial banks of selling dollars at higher than official rates as the exchange rate continued to stay under pressure.

Tran Tan Hung said his trading company in Ho Chi Minh City was looking to buy dollars from some banks late last month. To his surprise, the rate he was charged was even higher than the one on the so-called black market.

Hung said at first glance, the banks seem to play by the book, quoting the dollar at the official exchange rate. But later, they will add a surcharge of 4-4.5 percent to the rate, he said, without revealing which banks did it.

"This kind of fee changes every day and is apparently calculated based on the unofficial exchange rate," Hung said. "If the situation continues, we will have to reconsider our import plans."

Many other companies also said the dong-dollar rate announced by banks no longer has any real meaning. They said the unofficial rate is now widely applied and they have to accept it if they want to buy the greenback.

Sacombank Securities said in a forex report last week that the stable foreign exchange in the first half of the year was one of "the most critical successes" of the government. However, the stability is now threatened, partly due to lack of confidence in the dong and high dollar demand for both gold imports and repayment of maturing dollar loans.

"Over the past month, we estimate that gold companies have been net sellers of 250-500 kilograms of gold on a daily basis, forcing them to import huge quantities of gold," the company said. "In that context, it came as no surprise to observe black market activities regaining traction."

According to the report, there were already signs of repayments by businesses of dollar loans taken out earlier this year. The 2.71 percent monthly drop in the foreign currency credit growth in September signals that businesses have begun the rush to repay their dollar loans, Sacombank Securities said.

Despite the growing downward pressure on the dong, the company believes another one-off devaluation is not on the cards this year. It said the central bank will probably favor the use of other tools to defend the local currency.

The State Bank of Vietnam said last week that it will raise fines for violations of gold and forex trading regulations.

The central bank said in a statement Wednesday it has been informed that some foreign banks were trading foreign currencies at rates higher than allowed.

"This has a negative impact on the effectiveness of new policies and the stability of the foreign exchange market as well as the operations of credit institutions," it said.

Central bank inspectors will immediately investigate forex transactions at some banks, the statement said.

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