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Vietnam’s frontier fund managers

Vietnam’s first flirtation with western fund management ended in an embarrassing exit for all but the die-hard few. Now that money is queuing to get in again, those who stuck it out through the downturn advise caution. Chris Leahy reports.

FUND MANAGERS GREETED Vietnam’s arrival on the investment scene 10 years ago with substantial commitments of capital and massive optimism. Within a few years, the optimism had disappeared, along with the managers and most of the capital. Chris Freund, managing director of private equity fund Mekong Capital, based in Saigon, has more cause than most to remember the mass exodus. “I opened the Templeton office here in 1994 and closed it in 1998,” he says. “I set up Mekong in 2001, so I was here during the boom-bust cycle last time.”

He is in good company. Another Vietnam veteran, Dominic Scriven, founder of Dragon Capital, a local asset management and securities firm, can track the ups and downs of Vietnam’s fund management industry through the fortunes of his own business. “People raised huge sums – $400 million – 10 years ago,” he says. “By the time everyone had woken up in 2000 it was $100 million.”

Now Dragon Capital boasts $350 million of assets: a pretty good outcome after starting off with $16 million. One of the reasons that it prospered where others failed is that ambitions were kept realistic, says Pham Minh Huong, director of IPA Investments, a new start-up asset and wealth management firm based in Hanoi.

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