Vietnam’s national debt had reached more than VND2,600 trillion ($116 billion) as of the end of 2015, equal to 62.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), said the country’s Finance and Budget Commission in a report on the country’s debts and obligations for 2016-2020.
The report said Vietnam’s debt remained below the ceiling of 65 percent of GDP set by parliament, but debt has been growing three times faster than GDP.
All public debt indicators, such as public debt to GDP, public debt to government revenue, debt service to GDP and debt service to government revenue, are at risk of either approaching or exceeding the safety limit, the commission said. Taking debt service to government revenue as an example, the ratio last year hit 27.4 percent last year, far beyond the limit of 25 percent.
The country is also seeking new loans to repay debts and service obligations. The Vietnamese government reportedly used 14.2 percent of total outstanding loans to pay back debts in 2014, according to the Finance Ministry. The World Bank estimated the figure may have jumped to 16 percent last year.
The parliamentary commission also emphasized that debt-ridden state-owned enterprises need special attention. Data shows that more than 100 major state-owned enterprises had borrowed a combined VND1,500 trillion ($67 billion) by the end of last year, with a large part coming from foreign creditors. These SOEs borrowed $15.6 billion from overseas, of which more than 60 percent was either official development assistance loans at low interest rates or loans guaranteed by the government.
The report raised concerns about the fact that when a state-owned enterprise can’t find its own way to repay its debts, the government must step in and assume the responsibility.
For instance, after state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin defaulted on a $600 million loan, the Ministry of Finance finally had to step in by offering to guarantee a bond issuance to a group of more than 20 creditors, mostly commercial banks, with Credit Suisse as the mandated lead arranger.
The World Bank forecasts that Vietnam’s public debt will climb to 63.8 percent of GDP this year and 64.4 percent next year.
The growing debt will impose a steadily increasing burden on the economy, and make it ever harder to cut the budget deficit, which hit 6.1 percent of GDP last year.