TT-645 -- Partnering with Vietnam, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, January 15, 2012, Issue No. 645


- What's New -- Partnering with Vietnam
- News -- Bankruptcies lowest since 1990
- Candidate Roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming Events
- Corrections/Feedback -- Business in China, doing it tough
- News Credits

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Back in the late 1990's we were told by a successful
venture capitalist that the Asian country considered by the
Japanese as being closest in terms of temperament and
diligence was Vietnam. He said that with the socialist
nation starting to open up commercially, that there would
be a flood of Japanese investment there. Given that China
was still growing rapidly, wages were still low, and
Vietnam had very little infrastructure, it was hard to see
what he was going on about. Now, however, his words have
turned out to have been an uncanny prediction. Trade and
diplomacy between Vietnam and Japan is running at an
all-time high, and Vietnam is booming economically.

The fact is that Vietnam is highly strategic for Japan. The
nation is not so large that it will ever be a threat, and
yet its large body of educated people come at some of the
most competitive wages in Asia (think US$200~US$500 a month
for a college graduate). This means that Japanese corporations
see Vietnam as their risk hedge against the financial squeeze
that is starting to emerge in China. Specifically, the
Chinese government appears to be committed to wringing more
taxes and compliance costs out of foreign companies, as
well as hitting them with compulsory wage hikes, and which
over time will cause many Japanese manufacturers (the
retailers will obviously stay) to flee that country. Those
we speak to say that they are looking at Vietnam -- so long
as the infrastructure is there.

The Japanese also do feel close to Vietnam due to social
and welfare ties. For example, for the last 20 years Japan
has been the largest donor of foreign aid to Vietnam. This
has come mainly as infrastructure loans, however, there has
also been significant private sector investment in
vocational colleges, cross-border training, and other human
resources projects. Presumably the thinking is that over
time, Vietnam will supply Japan with engineers and farmers
as demographics force Japan to look abroad. The warmth
between "teacher" and "student" is very tangible. A recent
Nikkei article quoted an official from Ritsumeikan
University, which has more than 200 Vietnamese students at
its Oita campus, as saying, "Vietnamese are more diligent
than Japanese students and are hungry to learn."

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

This attitude accounts for the burgeoning flow of promising
Vietnamese students to Japanese universities such as
Ritsumeikan and Keio. As mentioned, Ritsumeikan in Beppu
has a large body of students, so large in fact, that it hosts a
Vietnam week every year which is one of the most popular
events on the school calendar. We've been to it, and the
student-performed stage shows are always packed out.

But it's not all a bed of roses. While most of the
Vietnamese population is reasonably well educated, finding
motivated workers beyond the ranks of the elite is more
difficult. There is also an obvious lack of Japanese
speakers, especially now with the flood of Japanese firms
setting up shop there. A JETRO survey in October last year
stated that 63% of Japanese firms found that ability and
attitude of local staff was a problem, unless the person
had studied in Japan, in which case they were much more

As a result, the Japan International Cooperation Agency
(JICA) is going to start a training center in Vietnam at a
cost of JPY200m, which will churn out engineers who have
also studied Japanese. This is the first time in about 10
years that JICA has made such an investment, giving some
idea of how Vietnam has been set on a fast track by the
decision-makers in Kasumigaseki.

Historically, Overseas Direct Assistance (ODA) to Vietnam
from Japan has been generous, and never more so than this
last year, when Japan provided about JPY200bn of aid. The
loans are really "soft", being charged at between 0.2% and
1.2% for 30 to 40 years. The scope of these loans was
detailed in a March 2010 agreement between both
governments, which listed the following projects over the
next few years:

* Terminal 2 Construction Project in Noi Bai International
Airport, JPY12.607bn
* Noi Bai to Nhat Tan Bridge, JPY6.546bn
* Cuu Long (Can Tho) Bridge Project, JPY4.626bn
* Third National Highway No.1 Bridge Project, JPY1.038bn
* Hoa Lac Hi-Tech Park Infrastructure Development Project,

Those project loans priced at just 0.2% interest are
actually "tied" projects, the Japanese government's favored
way of steering ODA funds back to domestic (Japanese)
corporations. For example, it was announced in the media
back in December that Taisei had won the Terminal 2 project
for Noi Bai International Airport. We had to smile as the
Nikkei had some gushing editorial about how "Taisei aims to
step up efforts to win more orders in Southeast Asia," when
in fact this deal was pretty much given to them. If we had
a Japanese grandmother in the construction business, she
probably could have won the project... :-)

Still, we shouldn't be persnickety about Japanese ODA. At
least they are making the serious investments necessary,
and even though there were marginally more South Korean
firms setting up shop in Vietnam last year, we suspect that
given Vietnam's stable and somewhat ossified political
system, memories about early investments and political
commitments by Japan won't die quickly and thus Japan will
be the most favored nation for projects and approvals for
some time to come. The result is that Vietnam's
infrastructure is moving forward by leaps and bounds, and
therefore the number of Japanese firms that will opt for
Vietnam in the future will soar.

As an example of things to come, Sapporo Beer announced
last November that it had just finished a JPY5.2bn brewery
in Ho Chi Minh City that will become the base for exports
all over Asia. The new factory is already pretty significant in
size, currently producing 40Ml of beer, but it is due to be
expanded to 150Ml within 7 years -- or about 20% of
Sapporo's entire Japan-based production. That's a
serious amount of beer...

We're watching Vietnam closely and already do some
business with a software company there. Our take is that
this country will boom from Japanese commercial
investment over the next decade, and turn out to be the
"mini China" that our VC friend predicted all those years

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Bankruptcies lowest since 1990
- Office vacancies rise again
- First successful jailbreak in 23 years
- Hawaii Tourism Japan has new contractor
- Giant gas project in Australia finally approved

-> Bankruptcies lowest since 1990

We think it's just a temporary respite, but nonetheless,
surprisingly the number of companies going bankrupt with
debts of JPY10m or more was down to 12,734, the lowest
level since 1990. The numbers come from Tokyo Shoko
Research, and show that the government's temporary loan
measures to support firms hurt by the earthquake are being
applied to a wider proportion of small companies than
probably initially envisaged. ***Ed: It is our belief that
once the government turns off the loan forgiveness program,
possibly this year or next, the level of bankruptcies will
soar again. We don't know of many companies doing well,
other than some exporters.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 13, 2012)

-> Office vacancies rise again

More trouble on the horizon for commercial landlords, as
the office vacancy rate for the five main wards of central
Tokyo -- being Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shinjuku and Shibuya
-- rose again in December, for the 3rd consecutive month.
The vacancy rate for December was 9.01%, up 0.11% from
November, and the average rent in the same five locations
is now JPY16,932 per tsubo (3.3 sq. m.). ***Ed: We don't
see this trend changing for another 6 months at least.
Companies are very bearish about their prospects in the
domestic market, and so are naturally continuing to cut
costs -- being primarily personnel then office space. Add
to this the fact that many foreign firms are significantly
cutting back their presence in Japan, particularly in the
banking sector, and you have a very negative market for
office space.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Jan 12, 2012)

-> First successful jailbreak in 23 years

A Chinese burglary ringleader who was sentenced to 23 years
in prison back in 2005 has the dubious distinction of
being the first inmate to successfully break out of prison
anywhere in the country since 1989. Apparently he took
advantage of reduced security during construction on the
outer walls of Hiroshima prison, scrambling up the
construction scaffolding in his underpants. He was caught
two days later after being ID'd from a fingerprint he left
on a can of beer taken from an apartment he broke into to
find clothes. ***Ed: You get the sense that even if you
did successfully break out of a Japanese prison, that
there are not so many places to hide as a foreigner.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 11, 2012)

-> Hawaii Tourism Japan has new contractor

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has selected a new contractor
to represent the islands in Japan. The company's name is
a.Link LLC, and it is led by an Eric Takahata. According to
the Authority, tourism from Japan to the Hawaiian islands is
recovering after a dramatic drop in visitors after the 3/11
earthquake and tsunami. ***Ed: We think other US states
should be looking at opening offices here as well. Although
outbound tourism is still down, travel agency inquiries are
rebounding as the traveling public starts to realize that
the strong yen is a huge one-time advantage if you're
Japanese.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Jan 11, 2012)

-> Giant gas project in Australia finally approved

Major investors in the US$34bn Ichtys LNG gas field in
Australia, Japan's Inpex and France's Total, have finally
given their go-ahead for the project to start. The project
is expected to produce about 8.4m tonnes of LNG a year, and
once it goes on stream in 2017, is expected to produce
about 10% of Australia's total output. ***Ed: About 70% of
this volume will go to Japan -- making it pretty clear that
Japan is going to replace oil with LNG.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Jan 13, 2012)

NOTE: Broken links
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few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** In TT644 we gave our predictions for Japan for 2012,
which have the nation doing not so badly even as Europe
takes it on the chin. One reader based in China gives us
feedback that things are not quite as hunky dory over
there as the media would have us think.

=> Reader comments:

2011 has been a very tough year for those of us running
private businesses in China, but we have survived and
managed to keep things together and pay for the education
costs of our offspring -- a non-discretionary expenditure
for non-Chinese families living here. I don't need to
remind anyone of what a momentous year it has been on the
international front, including most relevantly to us, the
unfolding economic crisis, but you may be less aware of
what is happening in China.

This is the year that the real estate bubble burst. Perhaps
due to the nature of the system here, the deflation of the
bubble is not being accelerated by a media frenzy, but even
in the absence of the histrionics basic economics doesn't
change. There is too much of the wrong sort of real estate
being developed and for most people the dream had receded
beyond even the faintest hope (or wildest fantasy) a while
ago, and so things had to come unstuck. The implications
are huge. It is not only that there are now going to be
huge numbers of very large bad loans on the books of the
banks, but there are going to be lots of unhappy punters as

And some of these punters are in unexpected places. For
example, the real estate development frenzy was the main
source of revenue for local authorities issuing building
permits and with their various side businesses, and now
that revenue stream is now drying up rapidly. We are all
waiting for them to start levying more new charges on
business to make up the difference. With the bursting of
the domestic development bubble, the demand for building
materials has slumped and so with a dead domestic market
and an equally dead international market there are
businesses around us closing every day. Just in our area
alone, we are aware of many and we hear many stories that
such-and-such boss has just "done a runner". It's not
healthy to hang around here if you owe lots of money.
Better to clear the safe and take the last wads of cash and
head for the hills. (Or the nearest airport or the second
home in Canada or wherever it is that you have prepared in
better times as your safe haven.)

So 2012 is going to be tough for China. There will be no
growth in exports next year and there will be trouble at
home as workers find less jobs are available. Unfortunately
at the same time, the government continues to legislate for
annual wage increases, in an attempt to close the
astronomical wealth gap that exists in this country, but
the timing is wrong for such noble initiatives. It is not a
time for policies that fly in the face of the basic laws of
economics. The issue next year will not be the wealth gap,
it will be the lack of jobs growth and, indeed, probably a
shrinking employment market. We have witnessed a massive
labour riot near our factory first hand and it is not
pretty. The number of disputes is rising rapidly and so
keeping the lid on next year is going to be hard. The
authorities are well aware of this and their nervousness
(think Tunisia et al) is obvious everywhere.....


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