A new, adventurous route into Vietnam

We could soon see some particularly unloved markets come back into fashion, says David C Stevenson. Chief among them is Vietnam.


Hold onto your hats: investors will flock back

Most stockmarkets in the developing world have had a tough few years. But as investors have stopped worrying so much about rate rises in the US this year, we've seen improving sentiment towards emerging-market assets. I'm not yet completely convinced we've reached a turning point, but I think it's time to watch emerging markets more closely. If conditions start to become more bullish, we could soon see some particularly unloved markets come back into fashion. Chief among them is Vietnam, one of my long-term favourites.

Good news is being ignored

Next, there's trade. We should see various free-trade agreements finalised within the next few years, which should be a huge boost. Third, economic conditions are encouraging. Inflation is running at 2%, GDP growth is at 6.7% and there's a trade surplus.

The exchange rate is also being carefully managed lower after some recent dramatic volatility. And, of course, there's the stockmarket itself. Vietnam is keen to be promoted from frontier to emerging-market status by the index providers, which will help attract more foreign investment, and is making reforms to help this process along. So, there's plenty of good news coming out of Vietnam.

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However, investors don't seem to have taken too much notice. There are concerns about the impact of a slowdown in China and about poor corporate governance in Vietnam. Both concerns are valid, and the latter is a strong reason to use an active fund rather than an index tracker if you're willing to take the risks and invest. The most established fund and most easily accessed is VinaCapital's London-listed investment trust Vietnam Opportunity Fund (LSE: VOF).

This has had some issues in recent years, but it's been tightening up its portfolio and exiting some private property investments with decent returns. This should help give it greater focus and enable the managers to close the discount to book value, which is running at between 20% and 25%. It's recently started trading on the main London market, which should make it eligible for inclusion in the FTSE All Share index.

A rival to the establishment

This should be an interesting vehicle for some contrarian, value plays. Obviously, investing in smaller value-orientated stocks comes with many risks. They can be less liquid and more volatile than larger ones. Those corporate governance issues I mentioned earlier are often a major issue with smaller companies.

And the macroeconomic risks remain high: if the global economy were to tumble into recession there is a good chance that investors could flock from frontier investments in droves. What's more, the fund will be very small when it launches. However, I think it might be worth a punt for adventurous types.

One of the complications of investing in Vietnam is that the index is dominated by a handful of stocks which tend to trade on high PEs and multiples of book value. The largest company, Vinnamilk, may be a good company but it trades at eight times book value.

Also, ETFs may not be the best approach for such a frontier market. The leading ETF is concentrated with 50% in just four stocks and 65% in financials. The top holding (15%) is Vingroup, a real estate developer, with a price/earnings ratio of 71!

Saigon Securities' new fund strategy is large and mid-cap but "value" focused. The metrics of the planned portfolio are price/book of1.5 times and price/earnings of nine times, return on equity of 19 times and, for those interested in income, there is a dividend yield of over 5%.

More information on Saigon Securities here.

David C. Stevenson

David Stevenson has been writing the Financial Times Adventurous Investor column for nearly 15 years and is also a regular columnist for Citywire. He writes his own widely read Adventurous Investor SubStack newsletter at davidstevenson.substack.com

David has also had a successful career as a media entrepreneur setting up the big European fintech news and event outfit www.altfi.com as well as www.etfstream.com in the asset management space. 

Before that, he was a founding partner in the Rocket Science Group, a successful corporate comms business. 

David has also written a number of books on investing, funds, ETFs, and stock picking and is currently a non-executive director on a number of stockmarket-listed funds including Gresham House Energy Storage and the Aurora Investment Trust. 

In what remains of his spare time he is a presiding justice on the Southampton magistrates bench.