With that quote, Martin is attempting to distil down the dogged determination and dynamism of this Southeast Asian nation of 100mln people that can’t be summed up in a spreadsheet or an analysts’ report.
Coronavirus is a case in point – 268 people infected and no fatalities. A recovered Boris Johnson and his cabinet must be wondering how this feat was achieved.
Cynics will point out Vietnam is a one-party command economy where the population has been willing to sacrifice civil liberties for safety in the teeth of the pandemic.
However, it is emblematic of the stoic resilience of the Vietnamese, according to Martin, whose Dynam Capital runs VietNam Holding PLC (LON:VNH), which is dedicated to sustainable investment in the country.
Martin has more than two decades' worth of experience and insights and reckons Vietnam is approaching an economic inflexion point – hitting US$3,000 per capita GDP (gross domestic product).
For China, Vietnam’s neighbour, 2008 marked the point at which it became an emerging consumer economy rather than purely one based on a hand to mouth agrarian subsistence; now, Vietnam’s emergence from its chrysalis may be imminent.
Vietnam was at US$2,556 per capita in 2018. According to the latest available figures this is estimated to have grown to US2,740 last year. This means 2020 could be the year the magic number is achieved.
Under Dynam’s stewardship, VietNam Holding has built up investments in 20-30 local companies that tap into the industrialisation and urbanisation of the country as well as the consumerism that comes with growth.
Around half are in the small- and mid-cap arena, and there is a very real and tangible focus on environmental, social, and governance investing, known as ESG for short.
“Fundamentally we think that companies that pay back to society and have better governance will do well and get a better rating,” says Martin. “A number of investors are attracted to our ESG and are engaged on that.”
That focus on small- and mid-caps means the Dynam team overseeing VietNam Holding has uncovered pocket rockets that are growing at 20-30% a year. And it is also tuned in to some of the bigger firms too, giving the portfolio balance.
However, recent months have made for a tough ride for investment firms per se, and particularly those focused on emerging economies.
Emerging markets exodus
The International Monetary Fund estimates US$90bn of investment has been pulled from these developing markets since the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Last month, the net asset value (NAV) of VietNam Holding fell by over a quarter, which tracked the decline of the local benchmark give or take the odd percentage point.
However, shares in the company appear to have over-compensated and are trading at a 25% discount to that already bargain-basement NAV of xxx per share.
Dynam’s Martin believes the current share price overlooks the nuance of the Vietnam market, where foreign ownership of local stocks is limited.
This has the effect of pushing up demand for shares in certain companies from overseas investors that isn’t taken into account when valuing its portfolio.
“We could sell our number one stock, FPT, for probably a 30-40% premium [to the current share price] to another foreign investor,” Martin says by way of example.
VietNam Holding took some money off the table earlier in the year, more by chance than design, and is reinvesting in quality companies at lower prices.
Martin believes VietNam will be a two or three-year play as the NAV increases and the discount to that asset valuation unwinds.
“We are patient investors,” says Martin. And of course, there are the people: “If you throw an opportunity at a Vietnamese person they will crack it. There’s a human capital there that people who haven’t visited the country just don’t get.”