Vietnam Asks State-Owned Firms to Sell Foreign Currencies

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Jun 02th, 2011, from The Wall Street Journal. HANOI—The State Bank of Vietnam has asked all state-owned firms to sell their foreign currency to banks beginning July 1, part of a plan outlined in February to eliminate the use of foreign money in the domestic market.

The central bank announced the directive Wednesday in a statement on its website. It didn’t provide details on the amount of foreign currency state-owned firms are believed to hold.

The central bank also asked banks to raise their reserve ratio for foreign-currency deposits maturing in less than 12 months to 7%, from 6%. This will raise banks’ costs to absorb dollar deposits and should eventually force them to offer lower interest rates on such deposits, discouraging the public from holding dollars.

Hanoi-based bankers said the latest steps are in line with government efforts to boost the value of the local currency, the dong, and build Vietnam’s foreign-exchange reserves. On Thursday the central bank capped the interest rate offered on individuals’ dollar deposits at 2%—down from the 3% limit set in March—and lowered the cap for corporate accounts to 0.5% from 1%.

These steps come after the dong has lost more than 15% of its value against the U.S. dollar over the past two years. The central bank has devalued the currency four times but still has failed to stop the bleeding.

“Though the government has introduced various measures to control imports, monthly trade deficits have been rising fast so far this year, making the authorities come out with new steps to support the dong’s value and improve foreign reserves,” one executive at a commercial bank said.

According to Nguyen Hai Ha, an analyst with MBCapital, one of Vietnam’s largest fund management groups, the steps will help the central bank meet short-term targets on the reserves and the exchange rate.

In the long run, however, “the dollar is expected to rise because local reserves of the U.S. currency are thin, while trade deficits continue to rise,” the analyst said.

The central bank said companies will be able to buy back dollars later if they need them.

Vietnam’s trade deficit widened to $1.7 billion in May from $1.49 billion in April, its largest monthly deficit since December 2009, government figures showed.

The country’s trade deficit during the January-May period was $6.59 billion, compared with $5.46 billion deficit a year earlier.

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