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Vietnam’s stock market: Buckle up and proceed with caution

Vietnam’s stock market is roaring as speculative money chases the few listed stocks. Reform is on the way and the potential for growth is clear. Meanwhile, the market remains over-hyped, poorly regulated and lethal for the uninitiated. Chris Leahy reports.

From pipe dreams to pipeline

IT IS EASY to locate the buildings that make up Vietnam’s physical stock market. The trading is something else. People huddle in coffee shops, offices and on street corners. Wherever you go in Saigon, Vietnam’s easy-going business capital, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, the market is everywhere. From businessmen to bus drivers, housewives to hotel clerks, everyone is in the market and everyone has an angle.

“Investors aren’t thinking about what they’re doing at the moment,” says To Hai, director of Bao Viet Securities Company in Saigon, the largest stockbroker in the market. “They just buy: they don’t care about P/E ratios or return on equity.”

Since the market started in 2000, five years later than planned, the VN Index, the official market benchmark has tripled. Daily turnover, although still modest compared with regional peers, has increased sharply. Talk in town is confident of a doubling in the market in 2006. Vietnam has never had it so good.

There is, however, a different picture lurking behind the headlines. Despite the market’s exuberant recent performance, it remains small, easily manipulated and hopelessly lopsided.

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