Vietnam banks face turbulence amid bad debt cleanup

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Most commercial banks have yet to report on their first-half performance, but not many are likely to be in the pink of health given the low credit growth and high levels of bad debts.

They said earlier this year that the sector had overcome the turbulence that caused a revenue decline of nearly 50 percent in 2012, but admitted they would face falling revenues and profits while they deal with bad debts and restructuring, two major tasks set for this year.

Eximbank, which entered the world's top 1,000 in 2011, has reported a 60 percent fall in pre-tax profits in the first six months, according to Ho Chi Minh City-based securities company HSC, which also forecast that the bank might miss this year's earnings target.

Vietcombank, the country's largest partly private lender, reported pre-tax profits of VND2.6 trillion (US$122.6 million) for the same period.

Its outstanding loans have fallen by 1.1 percent this year compared to a growth of 3.6 percent in the same period last year.

State-owned giant Vietinbank's profits in the first quarter stood at VND1.4 trillion ($66 million), down 32 percent year-on-year, after provisioning for bad debts.

Securities firm VCSC forecast its pre-tax profits to grow at just 2 percent this year.

Sacombank was among the few banks to do reasonably well, with first half profits reaching 52 percent of the year's target.

Lending increased by 4.5 percent against targeted growth of 12 percent for the whole year.

Some say credit could see robust growth in the remaining months of the year, given that lending usually picks up in the second half.

But others say it depends largely on how banks tackle the level of bad debts, one of the highest in Southeast Asia.

Last February the State Bank of Vietnam estimated non-performing loans at 6 percent of the total loans of $130 billion.

Mentioning the second major task for banks this year, the World Bank said in a report this month that the government's restructuring plans are "considerably different from what is generally considered as good practice."

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News website VnExpress quoted economist Vu Dinh Anh as saying he feared the task of restructuring the sector would become harder since the economy is not recovering.

To strengthen the banking system, the central bank has ordered lenders to divest from non-core areas and mergers of weak banks.

Apart from the central bank's requirements for higher risk provision and better risk appraisal, banks are facing difficulties in lending because manufacturing has shrunk.

Many banks have said they are considering revising downwards growth targets for the second half.

Even Sacombank, one of the few to achieve its first half targets, told Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper that it was unsure of achieving its targeted profit of VND2.8 trillion.

According to a central bank report , 24 banks posted losses in the first five months. Of the remaining 100 banks and other financial institutions, more than half reported lower profits.

The industry's cumulative revenues exceeded expenditure by VND18.2 trillion, down 40 percent year-on-year from two years ago.

The number would have decreased by 80 percent to VND3.8 trillion if the central bank had not delayed introduction of stricter rules for classifying loans and making risk provisions.

It has given banks an extra year until June 2014 to apply the new rules.

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