Higher rates hurting economy

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Interest rates in Vietnam have soared over the past few weeks after the central bank signaled tighter monetary policies to curb inflation and stabilize the foreign exchange market.

While raising interest rates can help contain inflation, very high rates can hurt the economy, Tran Hoang Ngan, a member of the National Monetary and Financial Policy Advisory Council, told Thanh Nien Weekly. A deposit rate of 12 percent is reasonable, as it is higher than the anticipated full-year inflation rate of 11 percent or so, ensuring that depositors can cover the higher prices of goods.

Thanh Nien Weekly: Each time the interest rates rise, several explanations are offered, such as stronger capital inflow into the stock market, higher inflation, and tightened monetary policies. What about the latest increases?

Tran Hoang Ngan: The higher interest rates are due to increasing inflation and exchange rates. To curb inflation and stabilize the exchange rate, the central bank increased the base rate, pushing up the interest rates in the banking market.

However, the (interest rate) hike should be seen as a short term phenomenon. The central bank should consider bringing them to a reasonable level. In theory, when inflation rises, countries will increase interest rates, but the increase must stand at levels firms can accept. This is where the central bank should come in.

The latest interest rate hike has hurt local production and business, so current levels should not be allowed to continue.

Some say that the capital mobilization capacity of commercial banks is still limited, and that this has contributed to the sharp rise. Would do you agree?

High interest rates are also due to the weak management of commercial banks. They increase the cost of credit for businesses.

Under the mechanism of free interest rates, we apply a policy of negotiable interest rates, which makes banks compete against each other to lure deposits through increased deposit rates.

The banking network has extended after some rural banks turned urban in 2006. Operating on a larger scale, the banks' expenditures have increased, so they have to raise their interest rates as well. Besides, banks looking to strengthen lending operations increase deposit rates to increase their capital supply. Thus, their lending interest rates increase as does the risk they face.

In general, local banks' business effectiveness is still low. The prices of banking stocks, which were high several years ago, are now very low. Some banks have seen their stocks falling below their face value. This shows that the banks' use of capital has not been efficient or effective, and that it is necessary to restructure the banking system, merging weak banks with stronger ones and dissolving those without sufficient charter capital.

In the context of the economy always needing foreign capital, how is credit supply affected?

Our savings now are lower than investment requirements, so we need foreign capital sources. However, there is a problem with this as well. From foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, we expected technology transfer and a reduction in imports. However, after 20 years (of opening the market to FDI) we receive outdated technology, and the FDI sector sees a trade deficit.

Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest interest rates in the world. This will discourage investors and encourage people to deposit money in banks. So, prolonged high interest rates will destroy small firms in the country, causing a shortage of goods, and therefore, increasing inflation again. The central bank should intervene to keep interest rates at a reasonable level.

What do you think is reasonable?

It is the correct thing to do, to accept high interest rates to curb inflation, but not at extraordinary levels. So, keeping the deposit rates at 12 percent is reasonable, ensuring that it is higher than inflation. Our country's full-year inflation is estimated at 11 percent, so a 12-percent deposit rate can help depositors cover the higher prices they pay for goods.

Inflation in Vietnam is caused by a number of factors not decided by money supply. Some countries have an interest rate policy based on base inflation in which non-monetary factors are not calculated.

For example, prices of crude oil and food in the market are not increasing because of higher money circulation in Vietnam, but because of world supply and demand.

So it is necessary to pay attention to this issue. Interest rate adjustments should be based on the base inflation rate, not the general inflation index (or headline inflation rate that has a larger basket of goods and services).

The latter is a measure of living standards that can be used to adjust wages, but the base inflation rate should come into play in formulating interest rate policies.

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