Emerging Markets View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

McDonald’s restaurants in Russia came under increasing pressure from the Russian authorities this week as officials closed several outlets in Moscow and inspected 435 of the fast-food chain’s restaurants across the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. The increased checks come amid heightened tensions with the West, and FSG’s Head of EMEA research, Martina Bozadzhieva, says similar actions are likely to begin affecting other western businesses in the region.

“Regulatory checks are likely to intensify across industries, especially against American companies,” says Bozadzhieva. “It is very difficult to predict who the authorities may target next and for what, and companies should be aware that problems may arise with regional as well as federal agencies. Local teams should watch their industry regulators particularly carefully to get ahead of any problems.”

Meanwhile, Argentina’s latest plan to exit default is being met with skepticism by financial markets, as bond prices slip and the black-market peso hits a record low.

“Markets are rightful to be wary with Argentina’s proposed local law debt swap, as it suggests that, contrary to initial expectations, Argentina has no intention of reaching an agreement with holdout creditors in the near term,” says Gabriela Mallory, senior analyst for Latin America.

Thailand’s military-appointed legislature nominated army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to become prime minister on Thursday, and FSG’s senior analyst for Asia Pacific, Shishir Sinha, says it may mean increased stability for investors.

“Thailand might be able to guarantee investors with more political stability as the ruling army chief is officially moving on to the helm of the country as its newest Prime Minister. While this move will delay truly democratic elections for quite some time to come, it is likely to help with economic growth; both consumer and investor sentiment should rise due to the expectation of stability,” says Sinha.


FSG clients can stay up to date with analyst commentary on the latest emerging markets headlines on the client portal. Not a client? Contact us to learn more.

Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki resigned, according to the BBC. Despite hopes that a resignation would help end the political crisis in Baghdad, FSG’s Practice Leader for Middle East & North Africa says it’s not over yet.

“Iraq’s political crisis is not over yet, but Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to step aside is a critical development. Companies should watch for whether PM-designate Haider al-Abadi is able to to form a new government that promotes cross-sectarian cooperation. A new government would need to usher in political reforms that ease sectarian tensions to bring Iraq back from the brink of civil war,” says Matthew Spivack.

In Latin America, Mexico’s government has outlined a plan to open oil fields to private companies, providing opportunity for foreign investment, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“The Mexican government is quickly moving forward with the first round of bidding starting early next year, which should provide an early infusion of FDI and support higher investment growth in 2015 ,” says Antonio Martinez, FSG’s Associate Practice Leader for Latin America.

This news comes in the same week as The Economist’s story “Mexico’s minimum wage: Stingy by any measure,” highlighting the low interest in the country’s consumer opportunity over the past two decades.

“Over the last two decades the increase in earning power of Mexican workers has severely lagged most of the other large LATAM economies, and is an important reason why the consumer opportunity in Mexico has not been as attractive to B2C companies as the economy’s size would suggest,” says Antonio Martinez.

In the Asia Pacific region this week, good news for Malaysia’s economy as second quarter growth shows unexpected acceleration on exports, according to Bloomberg.

“Malaysia’s impressive Q2 performance bodes well for the country’s growth over the coming months. The government’s efforts to address bottlenecks in the economy and improve the domestic operating environment are clearly paying dividends,” says Adam Jarczyk, FSG’s Practice Leader for Asia Pacific.


FSG clients can stay up to date with analyst commentary on the latest emerging markets headlines on the client portal. Not a client?  Contact us for more information.

Trace the Lights: 5 Key China Urbanization Stories for MNCs

nasa earth at night
Source: NASA Image

Take a look at this famous NASA image, a satellite photo of the Earth at night. This map shows the geographic pattern of night time electricity consumption, but it also clearly shows the geographic distribution of cities and population. Lights are bright in South Korea, but most places are in dark in North Korea; within the US, the east coast is brighter than the rest. Likewise, the lights are brightest around Paris and London in Europe. While there are still lots of dark places in China, we must ask ourselves, as urbanization continues in the country, what will this map look like for China in 2020, and where will the brightest lights be?

1. Strategic plan for China 2020 should incorporate future urbanization landscape—“go deep” vs. “go wide”

Every Western multinational needs to ensure they look at China’s urbanization as a major driver for the future consumption-led economy. FSG’s analysis is a starting point to assess the clusters in which multinationals already operate, and more importantly, what the best plan for the future should be—“going deep” vs. “going wide.” A clustering approach uncovers synergies, which are necessary given the scale in China and therefore an important input into the game plan for China 2020. My next blog will provide more details on which clusters I’m referring to.

2. Managing profitable growth in China

Concentrating resources on certain clusters brings the opportunity to exploit scale more quickly, because companies can leverage the synergies in sales force, distribution partners, supply chain, and marketing efforts across a wider geographical scope than by managing on a single city basis without sufficient regional scale.

3. Future organizational design is tilting toward decentralization

Multinationals will have to assess the possibility of decentralizing their Chinese sales headquarters by branching out sales centers to other hub cities to get closer to local business—for instance, using Beijing as the northern China headquarters, Guangzhou as the southern China headquarters, and Chongqing as the western China headquarters. MNCs can also consider breaking down functional responsibilities into different clusters by leveraging the clusters’ specializations—for instance, building a logistics center in Wuhan because of its favorable geographic location, establishing an e-commerce hub in Chengdu, and incubating R&D innovation in Suzhou.

4. Western multinationals need to monitor the industry clusters very closely

The government is and will continue building numerous industry clusters across the country that will help build the ecosystem around them. High-skilled and high-tech industry value chains are gradually taking shape. For example, a few biotechnology companies set up their administrative operations and R&D centers in Shanghai, while locating manufacturing in neighboring cities such as Suzhou or economic zones such as Kunshan or Zhanjiang Industrial Park. MNCs can leverage the formation of mature industry clusters to screen out horizontal suppliers and customers, as well as monitor the vertical competitive environment.

5. Multinationals need to keep an eye out for key signposts that will evolve over time; everything may not be rosy

China’s urbanization program will cost approximately US$ 6.8 trillion. From 2015 to 2020, more than US$ 100 billion of new, related professional services and biddable infrastructure contracts are estimated to be available every year. However, local governments are already deeply debt-ridden, given that China’s total local government debt in mid-2013 ballooned to 17.9 trillion RMB. The gap between the urbanization rate and urban “hukou” rate has widened over time. The high levels of local government debt will make it difficult to provide provisions for adequate public services, including healthcare and education, to new migrants.


This article is part one of a three-part blog series on China Urbanization called Trace the Lights. Check back next week for part two.

For a full report on evolving consumer base and urbanization in China, FSG clients can visit the client portal.  Not a client? Contact us for more information.

Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

After defaulting on some of its restructured debt on July 30, Argentina has petitioned the International Court of Justice to hear a lawsuit against the U.S. According to the Wall Street Journal, the South American nation claims that decisions by the U.S. courts in the legal battle between Argentina and some of its creditors have violated its sovereignty, but FSG’s senior analyst for Latin America research says it’s merely a stalling tactic.

“Argentina’s lawsuit against the U.S. is a stalling tactic intended to bolster the Argentine government’s political rhetoric. Most likely, its main result will be a further delay in negotiations with holdout creditors,” says Gabriela Mallory.

On Tuesday, South African publication The Daily Maverick asserted that “corrupt, incompetent governments and their repeated failure to protect their citizens” was more to blame for the Ebola outbreak than the disease itself. FSG’s Sub-Saharan Africa analyst Alexa Lion agrees, adding that the virus will have little affect on Western businesses involved in the region.

“Ebola is scary but is fairly isolated from Western economic interests. Its spread speaks more of government inability to contain the virus rather than high risk of contagion. MNCs must be vigilant and articulate health precautions to their partners, but also remain aware that it is business as usual in West Africa’s largest hubs,” she says.

In Indonesia, members of losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subainto’s political coalition are planning to form a special committee, or pansus, in the House of Representatives, claiming electoral fraud. Despite Prabowo’s large presence in the legislature, FSG’s Adam Jarcysk says it is unlikely the court will rule in his favor.

“The Prabowo camp’s decision to begin saber-rattling now about launching a pansus in October suggests that the Constitutional Court is likely to support Jokowi in its ruling later this month,” says Adam Jarczyk, FSG’s Asia Pacific Practice Leader.


FSG clients can stay up to date with analyst commentary on the latest emerging markets headlines on the client portal. Not a client?  Contact us for more information.

Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

On Thursday, EU diplomats will consider increased Russian sanctions. The sanctions include a proposal to ban all Europeans from purchasing any new debt or stock issued by Russia’s largest banks, according to the Financial Times, and FSG’s Head of Research for EMEA says it’s time for multinationals to make contingency plans.

“If some or all of the proposed measures are approved by the EU, MNCs operating in Russia will be significantly affected. Executives should build a targeted contingency plan for their Russia operations to prepare. Read FSG’s report Protecting Your Russia Business for analysis and suggested actions for building a contingency plan in the case of further sanctions against Russia.” – Martina Bozadzhieva

In Southeast Asia, a rising middle class and strong demand for more expensive foods has led to increased investment by Japanese food companies, mirroring FSG predictions on the rising competition from multi-ASEAN corporations.

“The increasing sophistication of regional firms and growing demand is attracting several global players to partner/acquire ASEAN firms. MNCs should explore all types of partnerships with such regional firms; they understand the market better, tend to have deeper distribution networks, and lower-cost operations.” – Shishir Sinha, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Asia Pacific after reading this WSJ article.

Good news for Argentina this week. Last Friday, the Latin American country struck a deal to borrow $7.5 billion from China for power and rail projects, according to Reuters.

“Argentina has reached a deal with China to borrow US$ 7.5 billion to finance energy and railway projects, and the two countries have also signed a three year, US$ 11 billion currency swap, in which Argentina will receive Chinese yuan that it can then use to finance Chinese imports or exchange to USD to bolster reserves. This news is welcome given Argentina’s balance of payment concerns.” – Christine Herlihy, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Latin America.

FSG clients can keep up to date with the latest emerging markets headlines and exclusive analyst commentary on the client portal.

Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

India’s newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced its first budget last week, and according to the Wall Street Journal, it proved a letdown for those expecting big-bang reform, MNCs included.

“While it is a well-balanced fiscal plan with focus on reviving consumption and investments, markets have not been overly pleased and experts find certain growth targets to be quite unrealistic. The absence of specifics on several big-ticket items and lack of an overarching vision should rightfully disappoint companies,” says Shishir Sinha, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Asia Pacific.

(Readers can view FSG’s original expectations for India’s BJP government here.)

Last week, Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA bonds hit record lows after parent company Espirito Santo International reportedly missed a debt payment, rekindling market fears and reminding investors that the eurozone’s woes are far from over.

“Executives should be wary of headlines for recovery in WEUR, and prepared for the heavy downside that could accompany bank failure. Banco Espirito Santo, a Portuguese bank, delayed payments on some securities, reminding us that just because banks have not been in the news does not imply that they are healthy. FSG’s WEUR Regional Outlook outlines how banks could impact MNCs throughout the region,” says Lauren Goodwin, Senior analyst for Western Europe.

In Latin America, Argentine presidential hopefuls are dealing with the issue of debt negotiations and exploring opportunities for business-friendly reform, according to Reuters.

“As Argentina strives to negotiate with holdouts to avoid default, executives should consider the potential for improvement as elections approach in 2015. The current frontrunners favor negotiating with holdouts and would likely be more pragmatic and business-friendly than President Fernandez,” says Christine Herlihy, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Latin America.

In global news, Forbes recently released an article on local companies competing with foreign investors in emerging markets, citing a new study by Boston Consulting Group and echoing past FSG reports.

“Echoing the same message in FSG’s report Winning the Race For The Market Diamond, local competition gaining market share in emerging markets is an increasing concern for multinationals, particularly for MNCs that focus on the burgeoning emerging market middle class. Read the report to understand the strategies other companies have used to battle the evolution of growing domestic companies,” says Sam Osborn, Associate Practice Leader for FSG’s global analytics.

Manufacturing Attractiveness Index of the ASEAN Countries

Southeast Asia has experienced a strong CAGR of 5.5% in terms of its manufacturing output over the last decade and is now responsible for almost 4% of the global manufacturing output. This growth has been funded both by domestic companies as well as foreign investors; ASEAN surpassed China in terms of the FDI inflow in 2013 and the manufacturing sector received a large chunk of the funds. In fact, more than 30% of all FDI that has flown into ASEAN between 2005 and 2010 has been towards manufacturing, and the sector is likely to continue to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the growing interest from foreign investors. The major reasons for this drive in investments can be summarized through the ASEAN’s four C’s: Consumption (growth), Cost (low), Commodities (abundant), and Community (single ASEAN trade bloc).

FSG’s Country-Level Manufacturing Attractiveness Index
As costs rise elsewhere and the addressable market becomes larger in ASEAN, companies should explore the viability of moving production to the region using a “total factor performance” analysis. It is important to make sure that the analysis looks beyond the simple math of labor-cost and considers total factor performance (labor, transport, leadership, material, components, energy, and capital)

FSG has created an industry-agnostic, manufacturing attractiveness index of the five major ASEAN countries based on the assessment of 30 key indicators under 6 key major groupings. See bar-graph below for the results of our analysis:

  • Labor conditions: average wages, minimum wages, engineer’s salaries, redundancy costs, literacy rate
  • Transport infrastructure: Quality of roads, quality of ports, quality of railroads, quality of air transport, logistics competence
  • Utilities (Support infrastructure): Quality of electricity supply, electricity production, energy production, broadband penetrations, mobile penetration
  • Regulatory environment: Investment freedom, tax rate, openness to foreign investment, prevalence of trade barriers, intellectual property rights
  • International trade conditions: Efficiency of import-export, number of days to import and to export, cost to import and export
  • Risk Factors: Gini coefficient, corruption, equity risk premium, banking sector risk, natural disaster risk

ASEANs Country Level Manufacturing

For companies conducting a similar analysis, couple of points to note before embarking on the exercise:

  • Make use of Weights: This benchmarking assumes equal weights for all parameters; however, companies should make adjustments according to their business needs to create the most accurate comparison
  • Conducting A Time Series Analysis: The benchmarking exercise should be done annually to measure change in the market’s dynamics

Country Profiles of the Major ASEAN Players and Their Key Provincial Regions of Manufacturing

1.       Malaysia

  1. Established industrial base: MNCs entered Malaysia as early as the 1970s, conducting manufacturing assembly in the country as a cheaper alternative to Singapore. The early entry of Western companies, access to raw materials (oil), and its established supply chains have allowed Malaysia to become one of the most competitive manufacturing locations in the region with top quality infrastructure
  2. High sophistication: Compared to its ASEAN peers, Malaysia has steadily moved up the value chain and is now mostly involved in higher value-added manufacturing and assembling, attempting to closely follow the footsteps of its neighbor, Singapore
  3. Cost barrier: With continuous progress and increasing sophistication, the cost of labor has also risen; engineers and manufacturing labor are the most expensive in the region

2.       Thailand

  1. Detroit of Asia: Accounting for over 12% of the country’s GDP, the automotive sector in Thailand has played a large part in cementing the country’s role as a key manufacturing location in the ASEAN region. Thailand has benefited heavily from sustained Japanese investments and is now the most industrialized nation in the region
  2. Rise of the Northeast: While most MNCs are unlikely to be exploring opportunities in Thailand beyond the central area, local firms are expecting the Northeastern region to perform better in the future, as it has access to a large consumer base, closer proximity to China, more attractive government incentives, a geographical area not prone to flooding, and mostly non-arable land

3.       Indonesia

  1. Manufacturing laggard: Despite obvious advantageous in terms of its location and relative wages, Indonesia has continued to remain a small player in regional production networks. Its labor market rigidities, a history of political uncertainty, and protectionist measures have kept MNCs at bay, but these trends are likely to change soon
  2. Rising interest because of costs and customers: Rising demand from ASEAN’s largest market has led several big-name MNCs to invest in the country; P&G began operations at its diaper production facility in 2013, and Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer, has committed a US$ 1 billion investment in order to set up its manufacturing facility

4.       Philippines

  1. Long-time semiconductor affair: The Philippines began to witness investments from semiconductor MNCs back in 1970s, when Western companies avoided the better established locations of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, which were feared to be affected by the ongoing Cultural Revolution in China. Till date, the industry has a stronghold on the Philippines; almost 50% of the country’s network products (parts and components, and final assembly) exported are semiconductors, with another 27% related to computer manufacturing
  2. Philippine Economic Zone Authority’s (PEZA):  PEZA is an ISO 9001:2008 rated government agency responsible for being the one-stop-shop for investors looking to set up in the Philippines. The agency’s lack of corruption and relative efficiency have allowed for the 286 economic zones it manages, under which there are more than 3,000 companies and over 800,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers. The advantage companies find when dealing with PEZA is that it is a single entity, making stakeholder management simpler while reducing external intervention

5.       Vietnam

  1. Concentration: Vietnam’s most important industrial zones are concentrated in a remarkably small number of provinces. The majority of Vietnam’s manufacturing is located in the Southeast and the Red River Delta; together, these regions account for almost 75% of the country’s industrial output
  2. Cheap labor and proximity to China are Advantages: Samsung announced plans to invest US$ 4.5 billion in two plants in Bac Ninh and Thai Nguyen as part of its plans to relocate production from China. Both factories are expected to produce 250 million mobile phones per year. Vietnam serves as an excellent source of cheap labor (the cheapest among the ASEAN five) and is relatively close to two other manufacturing economies, China and Taiwan

Highlighted areas account for more than 75% of the manufacturing output in their respective countries

Manufacturing Map

For more information on the topic, you can download the podcast in which we discuss (a) the rise of ASEAN as a manufacturing hub, (b) diagnose the viability of movement of industries into the region, and (c) decipher the impact of the AEC

What Does The Rise of Manufacturing in ASEAN Mean for Multinationals?

While the rise of Southeast Asia has been discussed widely over the past few years due to its strong consumption demand, the production aspects of the region remain relatively unexplored with many companies not having examined ASEAN’s manufacturing capabilities, its ability to achieve economic integration, and the comparative strengths of the individual members as production units. FSG’s research shows that manufacturing is likely to play a significant role in ASEAN for years to come

The Rise of Manufacturing in ASEAN

Southeast Asia has experienced a strong CAGR of 5.5% in terms of its manufacturing output over the last decade and is now responsible for almost 4% of the global manufacturing output. This growth has been funded both by domestic companies as well as foreign investors; ASEAN surpassed China in terms of the FDI inflow in 2013 and the manufacturing sector received a large chunk of the funds. In fact, more than 30% of all FDI that has flown into ASEAN between 2005 and 2010 (see pie-cart below) has been towards manufacturing, and the sector is likely to continue to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the growing interest from foreign investors. The major reasons for this drive in investments can be summarized through the ASEAN’s four C’s: Consumption (growth), Cost (low), Commodities (abundant), and Community (single ASEAN trade bloc)

ASEAN 1

However, even though the majority of the ASEAN countries have moved out of the agrarian state and have seen this growth in manufacturing, many are still in the early industrialization phases; meaning that the manufacturing sector is going to continue to see strong growth over the next 10 to 20 years (see graphic on the evolution of countries below) and will play a significant role in the development of the region

ASEAN 2

Assess the Direct Impact of the Rise of Manufacturing

  1. Serving the market: As costs rise elsewhere and the addressable market becomes larger in ASEAN, companies should explore the viability of moving production to the region using a “total factor performance” analysis. It is important to make sure that the analysis looks beyond the simple math of labor-cost and considers total factor performance (labor, transport, leadership, material, components, energy, and capital)
  2. Business customers (B2B) movement: Companies serving other manufacturing and production types of businesses should be assessing what types of industries are likely to invest heavily into Southeast Asia and which are not likely to consider moving beyond China

Gauge the Spillover Effects from the Rise of Manufacturing

  1. Productivity impact: The rise of manufacturing is going to positively impact productivity within the region, which has not seen a large improvement over the past decade. Manufacturing makes outsized contributions to trade, research and development (R&D), and productivity. The sector generates 70% of exports in major manufacturing economies, both advanced and emerging, and up to 90% of business R&D spending. Such productivity growth provides additional benefits, including considerable consumer surplus
  2. Rise in consumption will impact all industries: As the less industrialized countries of Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Cambodia move from agrarian societies to manufacturing ones, companies should expect consumption dynamics to evolve. As people move from the less predictable farming sector to the fixed-wage manufacturing sector, they tend to experience strong income growth, increasing their capacity to consume. Even companies not exploring manufacturing opportunities in the region need to be monitoring this trend

Establish a Strategic Role for the ASEAN Region in Your APAC Portfolio

  1. Evaluate a “China Plus” strategy- China’s rise to manufacturing prominence over the past two decades has been staggering. However, rising costs, more sophisticated consumers, and fundamental macroeconomic realities mean that current approaches to manufacturing are losing their relevance. As the imperative for companies in China will be to boost productivity, refine product-development approaches, and tame supply-chain complexity, ASEAN has appeared on the horizon as a viable alternative for companies looking to expand their manufacturing footprint into relatively lower-cost locations. ASEAN countries provide cheaper labor, investor-friendly governments, and are part of established supply chains
  2. Compare the competitiveness of ASEAN (to China and India) – China is unlikely to lose its dominant position as the “factory of the world” anytime soon because of its well-established infrastructure, existing manufacturing facilities, ability to scale quickly, and strong involvement in established global supply chains. However, certain low value-added industries are likely to consider moving out of the country or at least setting up their next facility in Southeast Asia, where the cost of labor can be less than half of that in coastal China. ASEAN countries provide access to several raw materials, and certain locations have strong linkages to trade infrastructure
  3. Explore ASEAN’s complementarity to China- ASEAN countries are also likely to be playing a complementary role to China within several industries that depend on Asia for producing parts and final assembly. Given China’s established role as one of the most productive assembly locations in the world, due to its ability to scale quickly and availability of infrastructure, many companies produce their parts and components in cost-effective locations within the ASEAN region, conduct the final assembly in China, and then have the finished product shipped to the end customer. The ASEAN-China free trade agreement has helped companies create such fragmented supply chains

In FSG’s latest report on the region, titled ‘ASEAN’s Role in Manufacturing’, (a) we explore the rise of ASEAN as a manufacturing hub, (b) diagnose the viability of movement of different types of industries into Southeast Asian countries, (c) conduct a location analysis of the various manufacturing sites in ASEAN, and (d) decipher the impact of the ASEAN Economic Community on manufacturing decisions. FSG clients may click here to see the full report

The Philippines – Asia’s Cinderella Story

Everyone loves a Cinderella Story, a situation in which a competitor emerges out of nowhere to achieve great success.  So it’s not surprising to see so many people rooting for the Philippines lately.  After expanding on average by 3.8% per annum from 1990–2010, the country’s economy has ramped up its growth to more than 6% in recent years.  The so-called “Sick Man of Asia” is now the top performer in the region ex-China.  Its stock market is up, its currency is strong, and FDI is beginning to flow.  Some companies looking to diversify away from China are even starting to consider it as an option.

Even so, doubts linger over the sustainability of the Philippines’ growth spurt.  Indeed, this uncertainty was on full display at a Euromoney conference in Manila that I recently had the pleasure of attending.  Although the president gave a rousing speech outlining the country’s progress and the finance minister gave calm assurances that the economy was on stable footing, the same questions kept coming up – What will happen after the 2016 election?  Will the next administration continue the current administration’s policies?  What assurances can you give us?

These questions are critical because in the past, interpretation of laws in the Philippines has changed from one administration to the next. So even if a law or contract was well-written, the way it was interpreted and enforced could change dramatically every six years.  Aside from concerns about corruption – which are also tied to this dynamic – this is one of the biggest reasons the Philippines has had such trouble attracting foreign capital.

Unfortunately, it seems that investors’ questions about policy continuity will remain unanswered for now.  Noynoy Aquino has not anointed a successor, and nobody seems ready to fill his shoes.  The current frontrunner for the next election, Binay, enjoys popular support, but it is not at all clear that he is committed to continuing Aquino’s policies.  And many of the other people who have been cited as potential contenders are old-school Filipino politicians – exactly what the country doesn’t need now.

And so the Cinderella Story continues.  Will the Philippines be able to sustain its growth?  Will the “Sick Man of Asia” break away from his past and continue sprinting ahead?  We’re looking forward to examining these questions and more in our upcoming reports on the Philippines.

Vietnam’s Structural Slowdown

There was a time when companies could count on Vietnam to post one of Asia’s highest growth rates.  In the years running up to the financial crisis, its economy outpaced ASEAN’s other major economies, consistently expanding by at least 7% per annum.  Sadly, those days seem to be over.

Vietnam is in the latter stages of a structural slowdown.  The continued dominance of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the real sector has deprived the country of much-needed productivity gains.  And high levels of non-performing loans (NPLs) in the financial sector have thrown sand in the gears of the economy.  Until these obstacles are removed, Vietnam will grow at well below potential.

Vietnams GDP Growth

Officials in Hanoi have paid lip service to the notion that their state-led model needs adjustment; however, they seem to lack the political will to implement painful reforms.

Take the state sector as an example.  According to Hanoi’s own measures, its SOEs are 19x less efficient with capital and 9.5x less efficient with labor than non-state enterprises.  Vietnam would clearly benefit from a privatization campaign a la late-90’s China.  But unfortunately, that would require officials to face down vested interests, something they seem unwilling to do: after pledging to “equitize” 573 SOEs from 2012–2015, they only managed to “equitize” 13 in 2012 and 43 in 2013.  (56 down, 517 to go….)

This might not be so bad if Hanoi’s reform failures were limited to the state sector.  But unfortunately, they extend to the financial sector, where banks are struggling under an extraordinary weight of NPLs.

In this area, Hanoi’s bureaucrats are actively underplaying the problems they face and pursuing half-hearted reforms.  The path they have chosen – to merge bad banks with good ones and create a pseudo-asset management company – is not designed to fix the financial sector’s underlying problems.  Instead, it is designed to avoid painful initiatives and kick the can down the road.  So much for the country’s banks.

This is not to say that all the news out of Hanoi has been bad.  After all, the government has significantly improved its handling of monetary policy over the last couple of years, which has helped it tame inflation and reduce exchange rate volatility.  This is no small feat in a country that used to suffer from double-digit price growth and consistent currency depreciation, but unfortunately, it won’t been enough to revitalize the economy.

If Vietnam is going to break out of its structural slowdown and return to the growth levels it saw prior to the financial crisis, its leaders need to step up their reform efforts.  Given their recent track record, this seems unlikely.  Barring any major changes, the economy will continue grow well below potential.  Companies should not expect Vietnam to bounce back anytime soon.