Vietnam, Indonesia top US companies' Southeast Asia plans

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Vietnam and Indonesia are the top investment destinations in Southeast Asia for US businesses, according to the American Chamber of Commerce.

Companies are "much more positive" on the prospects for regional growth, even as dissatisfaction over corruption increased, according to a business outlook survey published by the chamber Thursday. Improved economic links within Southeast Asia and higher profit expectations are among the reasons prompting businesses to consider expansion, the survey showed.

Asia's rebound is outpacing much of the rest of the world as exports boost earnings and domestic demand strengthens, benefitting companies including Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Malaysia's Sime Darby Bhd. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said its 10-member nations drew 3.6 percent of global foreign direct investment in 2009, up from 2.8 percent in 2008.

Most companies surveyed "continued to expand or expand significantly in Asean over the past two years" and more plan on doing so over the next two years amid optimism about growth, the chamber said. "This business expansion is directed most strongly towards Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore."

US businesses were mostly satisfied with the availability of low-cost labor except in Singapore and Malaysia, the report showed.

The greatest concern for companies in most countries is corruption, except for Singapore and Thailand. Respondents cited the city-state's housing costs and the stability of the Thai government as the main worries in those two nations.

"Corruption continues to be a source of great dissatisfaction for respondents, many of whom cited it as a barrier to doing business in Asean," the chamber said. "The level of local protectionism also remains a concern in a range of countries -- Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia."

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