Vietnam Empty Office Towers Show Dreams Turned to Rubble

What went wrong in Vietnam’s property market

From afar, the gleaming metal and glass edifices of Hanoi’s EVN Tower illustrate Vietnam’s rapid economic development. Up close, the rubble-strewn entrance and missing windows tell another story: one of loose lending and property speculation that now hangs over the country’s banks.

State-run monopoly Vietnam Electricity began construction of the 33- and 29- story dual-tower development in 2007, a year when 54 percent credit growth helped fuel the fastest economic expansion since 1996. Now, the economy has slowed, banks are struggling with an increase in bad debts, and unfinished property projects, empty offices and lower rents risk adding to the pile of non-performing loans.

“Banks were far too eager to lend and a lot of the projects that have been built haven’t been well-thought through,” said Stephen Wyatt, managing director for real estate broker Knight Frank Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City. “A number of developments are on hold, purely because they have run out of funding. Banks are no longer willing to fund these massive developments.”

Vietnam’s economy, which the communist government opened up in 1986, expanded at a 4.7 percent annual rate in the third quarter, after exceeding 7 percent from 2002 through to the first quarter of 2008. After a lending binge fueled the fastest inflation in Asia, policy makers raised interest rates in 2010 and 2011, and restricted lending. Among the casualties are many of the nation’s inefficient state-owned enterprises, which had diverted cash to property developments.

“When the developer is a state-owned enterprise and is using the money it should be using for say, power generation, airlines, shipping or banking, that’s where the oversupply has come,” said Marc Townsend, the Ho Chi Minh City-based managing director of CBRE Group Inc.’s Vietnam unit. “They all felt they could make easy money by being a property developer.”

Vietnam Empty Office Towers Show Dreams Turned to Rubble, Bloomberg News, Nov 26, 2012