Vietnam's trade surplus narrowed in January on import rebound

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Vietnam recorded a smaller trade surplus in January as demand for imports increased in an economy that is forecast to rebound from the slowest growth since 1999.

Exports exceeded imports by $200 million in January, after a revised $498 million in December, according to preliminary figures released today by the General Statistics Office in Hanoi. The median estimate of four economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a surplus of $109 million.

Vietnam recorded its first annual surplus since 1992 last year, easing concern about the stability of its currency and the economy. Faster growth in 2013 is "realistic" as credit expansion gradually increases and overall confidence improves, the U.K.-listed Vietnam Property Fund Ltd. said this month.

"We're hoping to see consumption pick up," as growth is expected to quicken to 5.5 percent this year from 5 percent in 2012, Robert Zielinski, the Ho Chi Minh City-based head of research at Viet Capital Securities, said before the report, describing his forecast as a "decent level" for Vietnam.

The dong was little changed at 20,850 per US dollar as of 11:08 a.m. in Hanoi.

Imports rose to $9.9 billion in January from a revised $9.86 billion in December, according to today's data. Purchases from abroad jumped 42.3 percent compared with a year ago. Asian nations will celebrate the Lunar New Year, known as Tet in Vietnam, in February this year, and factories from China to Singapore typically shut or reduce production during the holiday. Tet was celebrated in January last year.

Exports fell to $10.1 billion in January from a revised $10.36 billion in December. Shipments climbed 43.2 percent from a year ago, according to the Statistics Office. A global recovery is helping support demand for the Southeast Asian nation's goods and the World Bank said shipments have been driven mainly by foreign companies.

The strength of the dong enabled the State Bank of Vietnam to rebuild its foreign-exchange reserves in 2012 to cover about 2.3 months of imports by the end of the year from 1.5 months at the end of 2011, according to the World Bank.

Trade surpluses in Vietnam allow policy makers "the option of allowing some foreign-exchange appreciation if they want to limit inflation or to continue to build up reserves," said Dominic Bunning, a Hong Kong-based associate foreign exchange strategist at HSBC Holdings Plc.

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