The Market Vectors Vietnam ETF (NYSEArca: VNM) is up 4.3% this year and the lone Vietnam ETF is easily outpacing the iShares MSCI Frontier 100 ETF (NYSEArca: FM), a fund in which Vietnamese stocks account for 3.6%.
However, VNM has plunged almost 21% since its September, confirmation the ETF is in a bear market. The recent downturn in Vietnamese equities has market observers pondering what 2015 has in store for the Southeast Asian nation’s equity markets.
In positive news, most forecasts have Vietnam’s 2015 GDP growth checking in at north of 6% with inflation remaining benign by the country’s standards at 5%.
“It isn’t clear if the positive economic picture will translate into continued stock gains, especially amid concerns over whether the market’s structure is really ready for prime time,” reports Leslie Shaffer for CNBC.
That market structure includes an opaque legal system and pesky foreign ownership limits, though Vietnamese policy makers and the central bank have been working to ameliorate the foreign ownership limit in an effort to attract more direct investment from abroad. [Reconsidering the Vietnam ETF]
Plans by Vietnamese policymakers and the central bank to lift foreign ownership limits are widely known and date back to early 2013. There is still optimism that Vietnam will increase foreign ownership limits in financial services companies, a sector that represents nearly 38% of VNM’s weight.
On Tuesday, Auerbach Grayson sounded a bullish tone on Vietnamese banks, including Vietcombank (VCB.Vietnam) and Military Commercial Joint Stock Bank (MBB.Vietnam), Barron’s reported.
To its credit, Vietnam is nothing if not ambitious. Earlier this year, it was reported that Vietnam’s State Securities Commission has formed a team to study what it will take to earn the country a promotion to emerging markets status. Foreign ownership limits are among the issues making even a medium-term entry into the MSCI Emerging Markets Index a long shot for Vietnam.