Hints of a Crisis in Vietnam

There’s trouble brewing in Vietnam, judging by what’s happening to its currency.

The Vietnamese dong is effectively pegged to the dollar and only fluctuates within a very narrow band. However, investors can make bets on its impending direction using forwards, or contracts which allow buyers to purchase a currency at a set price at some future date.

On Tuesday the dollar-dong exchange rate implied by those contracts spiked by 11%, according to a note from Morgan Stanley — in other words, twelve months from now, investors expect the U.S. dollar to buy many more dong than it does today (over a third more, in fact). In effect, the contracts are pricing in a breaking of the peg and a drastic weakening of the dong.

That’s a major reversal from just months ago, when Vietnamese were racing to stockpile the local currency on the belief that it would strengthen. Since then, however, there has been a spate of bad news on inflation and trade.

On Monday, the government said that inflation jumped to 25.2% in May over a year earlier, raising fears that prices could spiral out of control. The trade deficit is also projected to expand to $14.4 billion in the first five months of the year as imports surge. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s stock market has plunged by more than 50% this year, making it the worst performer in Asia.

All this “was too much for the market to ignore, leading to a complete reassessment of macro balance and inflation risks at hand,” wrote Stewart Newnham, a currency strategist at Morgan Stanley. “When prices shift this much in emerging markets, it is rare that they recover,” he noted.

The bottom line: Mr. Newnham believes a currency crisis could be looming in which Vietnam is forced to defend the dong by selling dollars from its currency reserves.



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