Vietnam’s Value in Supply Chains

The economy of Vietnam has arrived on the global stage.

The drivers are due to a diversity of factors. On one hand, it has benefited from global geopolitical friction and macro shifts. On the other hand, consistent investment in and diversification of its manufacturing capabilities have vaulted Vietnam as a core market within many corporate strategies.

As a result, Vietnam has emerged as a visible and more sustainable component of the global supply chain.

A knock-on effect of manufacturing and supply chain maturity inevitably rises in industrial land prices and warehouse rentals. Vietnam has been no exception. This trajectory shadows a growing trend of multinationals committing to investments, both for manufacturing purposes and for market penetration. Add recent geopolitical tensions to the mix and the commonly held belief that Vietnam is emerging from trade conflicts as a “winner”, one must consider whether the initial drivers will ensure companies remain invested In Vietnam.

Basic economics have dictated the shift of labor out of established markets like China into nearby emerging manufacturing champions, like Vietnam. Between 2016-2019, the hourly wage for manufacturing jobs in Vietnam has consistently hovered at around half of the hourly wage for the same sector in China. (Source: Statista). The surge in foreign direct investment resulting from this mismatch has also led to an increase in the demand for I&L property in three clusters in Vietnam, Hanoi/Haiphong, Central and Greater HCM.

Looking back several decades shows the scale of change in industrial real estate. In 1986, there were just 355 hectares of land in Vietnam for industrial park use. By comparison, in 2018, this base has grown to 80,000 hectares.

The immediate opportunities are clear for international investors concerned with deal size and requisite yields.  Where land costs in core Chinese cities have reached $180 per square meter in Vietnam, industrial sites are already typically ranging between $100-140 per square meter.

Furthermore, the average land rental is increasing 5-8 per cent in Vietnam, according to CBRE Research. By contrast to this more modest price rise, rentals in Vietnam’s industrial parks, especially those in strategic locations connected to and in close proximity to key infrastructure, are surging.

However, the market for industrial and logistics assets in Vietnam remains somewhat nascent. From where we stand, the immediate room for growth is in providing value-added manufacturing and services. As its technical expertise enhances over time, companies are now vying to capture growth in this market and take Vietnam’s industrial and logistics value chain to new heights.

Where to start though? No dialogue about the industrial real estate market in Vietnam is complete without acknowledging the growing automobile industry. Arguably the bedrock of the economy, the automobile sector reflects all that is going well in the local economy. Growing average income levels, coupled with stability in both GDP-growth and inflation, have translated into high demand for automobiles.

This theme has resulted in increased demand for industrial land. While domestic automobile manufacturers and assemblers have faced speedbumps to growth, recent policy changes by the government to enhance standards for manufacturing, car repair and factories have helped Vietnam remain competitive amongst its regional peers, particularly Thailand and Indonesia – in turn spurting the growth in industrial and commercial land leasing deals.

Already, the industrial and logistics segment in Vietnam’s commercial real estate market is being divided into a two-speed market – in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and the rest of the country. As most occupiers are looking for high quality industrial facilities in prime locations, top tier industrial parks are experiencing approximately 80% occupancy, while facilities in other locations are at roughly 50% occupancy. By virtue of its promising domestic market and development of manufacturing, distribution, exports and imports, this is and will continue to be a market that investors pay close attention to. Leading the influx of capital into Vietnam are Japanese and South Korean companies (think Panasonic, Bridgestone, Samsung, LG), embracing the region’s increasing interconnectedness.

The auspicious place Vietnam has in the region for industrials and logistics will not be cemented without it making significant advancements, though. The dialogue on technological disruption in industrials and logistics, and, arguably, all sectors, will serve as a challenge for a country that has not fully submersed itself in the age of automation.

Currently, many factories and logistics firms still lag global peers in terms of the robotics and labor used. As innovation and technology are weaved deeper into supply chains, and with Industry 4.0 establishing a foothold, it will be worthwhile to upskill the labor pool – perhaps through governmental initiatives, to bolster Vietnam’s ascension in the value chain.

With 97 million people in pursuit of a higher standard of living, Vietnam should not be overlooked merely as an up and coming world factory following in the footsteps of China or a stopgap on the sidelines of geopolitical wrangling. Large conglomerates have eyed the large population as an opportunity to tap into a new market. As Southeast Asia’s rising star embarks on its journey of upgrading its infrastructure and talent pool, what we expect to see is not an exodus of firms in China but an emboldening of the “China +1” model, which is already bearing fruit.

Perhaps the bigger question facing Vietnam’s industrial space is competing with its ASEAN neighbors for global investment. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have all made strides in recent years. Indonesia is currently embarking on a well-publicized infrastructure spend, in line with the new mandate of President Joko Widodo, while Thailand is well established in manufacturing supply chains like the auto sector. 

All in all, plenty of competition will greet Vietnam’s rise as a global player in the industrial supply chain, but initial fundamentals and clear investor interest have ensured that the market is currently on solid footing and will continue to flex its credentials internationally.

By Troy Shortell, Executive Director, A&T Supply Chain Advisory, Asia.