Vietnam Economy under the Impact of COVID-19

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Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has already produced considerable changes in all aspects of an economy. Being an economy with a high degree of trade openness, Vietnam has maintained extensive trade relations with many partners. In the context of a global pandemic, Vietnam’s economy has been severely affected. Therefore, this article focuses on analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the aspects such as gross domestic product (GDP) growth, foreign trade, tourism, unemployment rate, and enterprises’ operation, and raising some prospects of Vietnam’s economy.

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Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic started outbreaking in Wuhan City, China in December 2019 and was declared as a global pandemic by the WHO in March 2020. The pandemic is now affecting worldwide, causing millions of deaths and other 20 million infected cases. The pandemic has led to the closure of many economies, both developed and developing ones, and stagnation, as a result.

As of November 19, 2021, Vietnam recorded 1,065,469 confirmed cases of COVID-19: 881,593 patients have been cured, 23,476 died. In which, in the 4th outbreak from April 27, the number of new infected is 1,060,394 cases [Cổng thông tin điện tử Bộ Y tế 2021]. However, this number will continue to increase dramatically because this epidemic is still very complicated in Vietnam, especially in southern cities and provinces.

The article contributes to giving an overview of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on such aspects as GDP growth, foreign trade, tourism, unemployment rate, and enterprises’ operation. Simultaneously, the article also raises some prospects of Vietnam’s economy. On that basis, the article can become a reference source for other studies related to this issue.

To serve the purposes and research tasks mentioned above, the article is carried out based on synthesizing research results of several related works, articles, and documents.

Literature review

The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the economic impact, leading to a global crisis. People are losing their lives when companies have closed due to the interruption in demand and supply. Therefore, the pandemic is not only a health problem but also a socioeconomic problem that restrains the global sustainable development agenda [Nicola 2020; Pirouz 2020]. As far as economies suffer, world trade flows will decline, mainly due to demand and supply shocks. In the world market, although the demand for essential commodities relative to the supply may continue to rise (further increase in prices), shortly, the demand for nonessential ones will further decline (even with lower prices) [Barua 2020].

Simultaneously, strict measures to curb the spread of the virus are seriously affecting economies worldwide. Strict policies like lockdown have affected the productivity of workers because of restrictions to work from home, not in the workplace. In addition, the limitation on the number of people gathering in public, imposition of travel bans and restrictions on tourist attraction site visits have exerted a negative impact on the hotel and tourism industry where most businesses declared a decline to only 10% in their activities [Fernandes 2020]. Especially, most businesses rest on social engagements. To be more specific, the tourism and entertainment sectors have suffered downturns, which most of their employees could not make a living due to layoffs or redundancy. This led to a decline in their consumption of casualties and increased the uncertainty of people’s consumption, which resulted in many business closures [Ghosh 2020]. Instead, most countries are expected to witness a sharp decrease in economic growth, thereby reducing their gross domestic product (GDP).

Inevitably, it may not be possible to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic on the global economy. Nevertheless, governments of various countries have formulated economic recovery strategies, such as injecting funds into the economy through a stimulus package to alleviate the plight of citizens and save lives. Crucially, the response plan is an important economic stimulus measure, and governments around the world are embarking on these measures to curb the deterioration of human development and economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic [Vitenu-Sackey, Barfi 2021]. The main stimulus packages launched by the government include monetary and fiscal policies focused on healthcare, liquidity support for banks, service and manufacturing industries, household consumption, alleviation of the cost of layoffs [Bayer, Born, Luetticke et al. 2020; Cheng, Barcelo, Hartnett et al. 2020; Elgin, Basbug, Yalaman 2020].

By contrast to the adverse effect of the prelockdown period on stock returns in Vietnam and the negative impacts of lockdown on the stock markets of other countries [Baig et al. 2021; Eleftheriou, Patsoulis 2020], lockdown in Vietnam had a significant and positive influence on Vietnam’s stock performance [Dao2020]. According to Bloomberg [Giang 2020], the fundamental reason for the outstanding performance of the Vietnamese stock market during the lockdown period is that investors have full confidence and trust in the Vietnamese government’s actions to combat the spread of the virus. In addition, because the reasonable value of the investors’ favorable stocks was attractive at the time, investors decided to return to the Vietnamese stock market.

In Vietnam, the percentage of Vietnamese families reporting a reduction in income as a result of COVID-19 (66.7%) [Tran 2020] was higher than that of India (45.6%) [Keelery 2020] and G7 countries (31%) [Duffin 2020], which were the most severely affected. Along with this, the slowdown in economic activity is affecting not only the demand but also the production and profitability of exports [Lam, Bui 2020].

Furthermore, social distance, immigration restrictions, and other measures, which many countries have taken, including Vietnam, have led to an unprecedented decline in the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam by 3,5 times compared to the figure for 2019 (12.9 million visitors) [Dao 2020]. Due to this decrease, a series of hotels and restaurants went bankrupt or temporarily closed, consumer demand declined and the supply chain (SC) was interrupted. The result of the manufacturing slowdown is the so-called supply shock. The disruption to the supply chain caused by the closure of production bases may have a domino effect, reducing the output of other companies, and affecting more companies.

Overview of Vietnam economy in the nine months of 2021

The GDP in the nine months of 2021 increased only by 1.42%, compared to the growth rate of the nine months of 2020, and much lower than that of 7.05% and 6.77% of the same period in 2018 and 2019 [GSO 9/2018, 9/2019, 9/2020, 9/2021]. In the general growth rate of the whole economy, the agriculture, forestry, and fishery sector increased by 2.74%, contributing 23.52% to the overall growth; the industry and construction sector increased by 3.57%, contributing 98.53%; the service sector losing 0.69%, decreasing by 22.05% [GSO 9/2021].

Inflation is under control, average core inflation in nine months of 2021 increased by 0.88% over the same period in 2020, which was nearly 2% lower than the growth of 2019-2020 and 0.48% lower than that of 2018–2019. The consumer price index (CPI) in September 2021 decreased by 0.62% compared to the previous month and increased by 2.06% compared to June 2020. On average, in the nine months of 2021, CPI increased by 1.82% over the same period in 2020, the lowest increase since 20161 [GSO 9/2021].

The total import and export turnover of goods in September 2021 is estimated at 53.5 billion USD. Generally, for 9 months of 2021, the total export and import turnover of goods reached 483.17 billion USD, of which export turnover was 240.52 billion USD, import turnover was 242.65 billion USD. The trade balance in the 9 months of 2021 was estimated to have a trade deficit of 2.13 billion USD [GSO 9/2021].

Negative impacts

The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) clearly shows the impact of the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic on Vietnam’s manufacturing sector as companies have to close down in quarantined areas, resulting in a sharp drop in output and new orders for the entire manufacturing sector. On the whole, the PMI witnessed more fluctuation than it did between 2018 and 2019, when the pandemic had not broken out. Before 2020, the PMI remained at the same level of 53. Afterward, the index got dramatic changes. In 2021, the PMI for Vietnam’s manufacturing industry bottomed out in March, ending a streak of over 50 points of this index for consecutive months (Graph 1). Notably, although the data achieved recovery since the last half of 2020, it has shown a downward trend since April 2021, when the pandemic started the biggest ever outbreak recorded in Vietnam. PMIs decreased from 44.6 points in June to 40.5 points and 40.2 points in August, September, respectively. Similarly, after 2 months of separation according to Directive 16, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) decreased from 9.3% in June to -7.4% and 4.1% respectively in August and September; while the total retail sales also decreased from 374.7 trillion to 279.8 trillion and 308.8 trillion respectively (Graph 1).

 

Graph 1. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).

Source: [Triển vọng kinh tế: 28.10.2021]


In September 2021, the passenger transport industry continued to face difficulties. Due to the fourth outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many localities implemented social distancing. Travel restrictions significantly reduced the number of passengers. In nine months of 2021, the data showed a moderate decrease of 607 million passengers compared to that in the same period of 2020. Notably, the figure for 2021 was 46.8% and 41.4% less than that of 2019 and 2018 in turn (Graph 2).

 

Graph 2. The general number of passengers transported in 9 months of 2018–2021.

Source: GSO 9/2018, 9/2019, 92020, 9/2021

 

Because Vietnam continues to implement measures to control the COVID-19 as well as preventing the spread of Delta variant, it has not yet opened to international tourism, so the number of visitors is mainly foreign experts and technical workers on projects in Vietnam. Generally, in the nine months of 2021, foreign visitors to Vietnam reached 114.5 thousand arrivals, falling by 97% over the same period of 2020. Compared to the number of 2019, when the COVID-19 has not yet emerged, the number of foreign tourists who came to Vietnam in nine months of 2021 witnessed a decline of over 100 times, showing the severe impact of the pandemic (Graph 3).

 

Graph 3. The number of foreign visitors coming to Vietnam in 9 months of 2018–2021.

Source: GSO 9/2018, 9/2019, 92020, 9/2021

 

Among 114.5 thousand arrivals, visitors from Asia accounted for nearly 85.83% of the total number of foreigners (Graph 4). Despite this, the total figure dropped by 97% compared to the same period of 2020 [GSO 9/2020, 9/2021].

 

Graph 4: Foreign visitors to Vietnam according to geographic areas in 9 months of 2021.

Source: GSO 9/2021

 

The serious decrease in the number of domestic and foreign tourists has also caused difficulties for the tourism industry. In which, revenue from tourism and travelling services in the nine months of 2021 reached about 202.3 million USD. Compared to the pre-COVID data of 2019, the figure for 2021 was 7.28 times lower [GSO 9/2019, 9/2021].

Meanwhile, revenue from accommodation and food services in 9 months of this year was at 12,307.6 million USD, decreasing by 35.72% over the same period of 2019 [GSO 9/2018, 9/2021].

Although many measures have been implemented to hold out during the epidemic, as of the end of September 2021, there were 90.3 thousand enterprises which suspended their business for a certain time, stopped operations waiting for dissolution procedures, and completed dissolution procedures, an increase of 78.5% compared to the data of the same period of 2019 – the pre-COVID era. The number was also higher than the same period of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic. Out of these 90.3 thousand enterprises, enterprises completing dissolution procedures focused on certain fields mainly were on the wholesale, retail, repair of cars and motorcycles, manufacturing enterprises, and construction enterprises (Graph 5).

 

Graph 5: Enterprises completed dissolution procedures 9 months 2021 by kinds of activity.

Source: GSO 9/2021

 

Due to the complicated outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic in some localities along with the closure of many enterprises, the labor and employment situation in the second and third quarters of 2021 was affected. The number of workers in the economy decreased compared to the first quarter. Moreover, the unemployment and underemployment rate in working-age increased to the highest level since the first quarter of 20202. The unemployment rate of people of working age was estimated at 2.91%, while the underemployment rate of workers in nine months of 2021 was at 3.04% (Table 1).

 

Table 2: Unemployment and underemployment rate in Vietnam in 9 months of 2021 (%)

 

Total

Urban area

Rural area

Unemployment rate at labor age

2.91

3.78

2.39

Unemployment rate of youth

7.85

10.62

6.54

Underemployment rate

3.04

3.00

3.07

Source: General Statistics Office of Vietnam

 

In the context of the complicated and prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, traditional insurance product distribution channels such as agents, banks, etc. continue to face difficulties, non-life insurance companies have cooperated with large insurance enterprises, promoting forms of online insurance product introduction to attract customers. The insurance business grew positively, insurance premium revenue of the whole market in nine months of 2021 was 1% lower than that was in the same period of 2020, and even 7% lower than the growth level of 2019 [GSO 9/2021].

Bright points

The COVID-19 pandemic not only poses huge challenges to the economy and people’s well-being, exposes the country’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities in economic development, but also creates various opportunities for some socioeconomic sectors. Online education, e-banking, and e-commerce are industries that have achieved unexpected success during the epidemic. At the beginning of the outbreak, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) issued on March 26, 2020, promptly, instructions for teaching through the Internet and TV channels during student absences and regulations to ensure the quality of teaching, inspection, and evaluation of the 2019–2020 academic year results. Digital banking and electronic payment platforms are also growing. The National Payment Service (NAPAS) report stated that in COVID-19 pandemic mobile banking, online banking applications of 45 commercial banks were used through NAPAS, with an average of nearly 2.8 million transactions per day.

 

Graph 6: Vietnam’s structure of export commodities in 9 months of 2021.

Source: GSO 9/2021

 

Despite the bad news of the pandemic, the invention of the COVID-19 vaccine is a milestone event that boosts the recovery of developed economies, including our partners. Since then, Vietnam has recorded some impressive achievements in foreign trade for nine months of 2021. Generally, in the nine months of 2021, Vietnam’s export turnover of goods was estimated at 240.52 billion USD, 23.8% higher than the figure for the same period of 2019. Of which, the domestic economic sector reached 62.72 billion USD, increasing by 5.3% over the data in 2019 and accounting for 26.1% of total export turnover. FDI sector (including crude oil) attained 177.8 billion USD, going up by 32% higher than it was over nine months of 2020 and making up for 73.9%. In nine months of 2021, there were 31 products with export turnover of over one billion USD, contributing 92.5% to the total export turnover. In which, six products with export turnover of over 10 billion USD, accounting for 63.2% [GSO 9/2019, 9/2021].

Regarding the structure of export goods in nine months, main products included the group of fuels and minerals, the group of processing industry, agricultural and forestry products, and fishery products (Graph 6). Compared to the export structure of 2019, there was hardly any change while the total value witnessed a sharp increase from 194.3 billion USD to 240.53 billion USD.

 

Graph 7. Vietnam’s largest export markets over the first 9 months of 2019-2021

Source: GSO 9/2019, GSO 9/2020, GSO 9/2021

 

Regarding the commodity export market in the first nine months of 2021, the United States was Vietnam’s largest export market with a turnover of 69.8 billion USD, a growth of 27.6% over the same period of 2020. The following was China market with 38.5 billion USD, going up by 18.3%. The EU with 28.8 billion USD, rose by 16.6%. ASEAN market with 20.6 billion USD, an increase of 21.2%. South Korea with 16.1 billion USD, an increase of 11.4%. Japan with 14.7 billion USD, increased by 5.1%. (Graph 7). Compared to the data of 2019, only the largest market and the fourth one, which were the US and ASEAN, remained its order. Whilst, Vietnam’s export value to Korea exceeded the figure for Japan and the data for China was also over that of the EU.

By economic activities, retail sales of goods in the nine months of 2021 reached 122.6 billion USD, accounting for 82.5% of the total retail sales of consumer goods and services. Although it has still experienced a high revenue, retail industry is facing difficulty with a significant decrease in sales compared to 2020 and the pre-COVID data (Graph 8).

 

Graph 8. The growth rate of retail sales of product groups in 9 months of 2019–2021

Source: GSO 9/2019, 9/2020, 9/2021

 

Production and business activities of the economy are gradually recovering, credit demand of businesses and people tends to increase when the State Bank of Vietnam implements interest rate cuts in 2020. As of September 2021, the growth credit of the economy reached 7.17% compared to the end of 2020, which was 2% more than the growth of the same period in 2019 [GSO 9/2019, 9/2020, 9/2021]. Whereas, the stock market developed stably with the total capital mobilization for the economy in nine months of 2021 estimated at 12.8 billion USD, up 12% compared to the same period of 2020 and even over the figure for nine months of 2019 [GSO 9/2019, 9/2020, 9/2021].

Prospects

The pandemic has accelerated recent trends in the company’s manufacturing relocation and back-shoring behavior. Japan, the United States, and developed countries tend to shift their manufacturers from China back to their own countries or other regions, including Vietnam and ASEAN countries. This trend provides Vietnam with opportunities for cooperation with developed countries, creating great chances in reshaping supply chains and reducing dependency on China and some traditional markets.

In April 2020, Japan allocated 2.2 billion US dollars for its record economic support program to help their manufacturers move production out of China, as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains between major trading partners. In July 2020, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry of Japan announced the first batch of 87 Japanese companies to shift from China to Southeast Asia and Japan. 57 projects will go to Japan while 15 companies choose Vietnam as their destination [Japan reveals: 17.07.2020].

In terms of export growth, in the context of the recovery of consumer demand in developed countries, especially in the field of processing and manufacturing, along with traditional fields (textiles, wood, and marine products), it is expected to be the main driving force supporting the economy in the last six months of the year, besides other motivations such as attracting FDI capital, disbursing public investment.

Export continues to be a bright spot in the last quarter of 2021. The driving force for Vietnam’s export to grow in nine months and to remain in the rest of 2021, comes from four reasons:

  • Firstly, the vaccine program, as well as the condition of no “zero Covid” is being promoted. Thus, major economies reopen, leading to an increase in demand for imported goods and services.
  • Secondly, with signed FTAs gradually coming into effect (CPTPP, EVFTA, UKFTA, RCEP...), domestic exporters are gradually grasping competitive advantages when benefiting from higher levels of preferential tariffs.
  • Thirdly, the price of export goods, especially Vietnam’s competitive products (iron and steel, agro-forestry-fishery, rice, etc.) tend to increase, which is an important driving force to increase export value.
  • Last but not least, the recovery of the manufacturing sector when social distancing regulations are eased, when the epidemic is gradually controlled, the Covid-19 vaccination program is accelerated.

However, the risk of slow export growth can come from two main factors: i) disease outbreaks, especially in industrial zones and big cities, negatively affecting production capacity; ii) the shortage of ships, the lack of empty containers, and the increase in sea freight rates have not shown any signs of being resolved soon.

On the other hand, it is difficult for domestic demand to recover because the epidemic still has been complicated, which is the main factor that lowers the economic growth prospects of the last months in 2021.

Ho Chi Minh City, which is the so-called economic center of Vietnam with yearly GRDP accounting for over 20% of GDP, is straining to fight against the ongoing 4th Covid-19 outbreak. Not only Ho Chi Minh City but also many neighboring provinces are applying social distancing as a consequence of the pandemic. Therefore, GDP growth is forecasted to fall from 6.5% to only 2.5% [KB Securities 2021].

Forecasted inflation for 2021 is also lowered from 3.8% to 3.0% [KB Securities 2021], reflecting weak domestic demand due to the impact of the pandemic combined with the decline in commodity prices after a strong uptrend from the beginning to the middle of the year, while hog prices continued their downward trend.

Conclusion

Our research helped to identify both negative and positive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and raised the outlook of Vietnam’s economy.

With the 4th wave of Covid-19 starting from April 2021 and showing signs of complicated spread in recent times, almost all cities have to apply social distancing and travel restriction, especially in Ho Chi Minh City, the economic locomotive of the country, and the provinces that focus on industrial zones such as Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, and Binh Duong. These measures, although they help to control the disease, have negatively affected regional economies in particular and Vietnam’s economy in general. Output and new orders in manufacturing sector declined, representing the decrease in the PMI and IIP. Passenger transport and tourism also faced difficulties. This led to the closure of businesses in many fields, including processing and manufacturing industry, transportation and warehousing, and accommodation and catering services. As a consequence, unemployment and underemployment rate in Vietnam over nine months has sharply increased.

Though, there were still some bright sides to Vietnam’s economy during nine months of 2021. It is worth noting that Vietnam has achieved a new impressive record in foreign trade. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile banking, online banking applications of 45 commercial banks, which were used through NAPAS, were reported million transactions per day. Retail sales of goods and services also experienced recovery, as opposed to its significant decrease in 2020. Last but not least, thanks to the implementation of the State Bank of Vietnam in cutting interest rates, credit demand of businesses and people increased gradually. The insurance business and stock market also grew positively.

Considering the outlook, the pandemic provides Vietnam with opportunities for reshaping supply chains and reducing dependency on some traditional markets, including China. Thanks to the vaccine program and FTAs, foreign trade, along with FDI capital, disbursing public investment, is also expected to grow.

However, disease outbreaks, the shortage of ships, the lack of empty containers, and the increase in sea freight rates may become important factors that will slow down export growth. Likewise, it is difficult for domestic demand to recover because the epidemic still has many potential risks, in spite of vaccine cover. In general, GDP growth in 2021  is forecasted to fall to 2.5% and inflation may decrease to 3.0%.

 

1 The average CPI growth rate of nine months inccreased compared to the same period of the previous year in 2016–2021: 2.07%; 3.79%; 3.57%; 2.5%; 3.85%; 1.82%, respectively.

2 The unemployment rate of working age in the first quarter of 2020 was 2.34%; the second quarter of 2020 was 2.85%; the third quarter of 2020 was 2.73%; the fourth quarter of 2020 was 2.63%; the first quarter of 2021 was 2.42%; The second quarter of 2021 was 2.62% and the third quarter of 2021 was 3.72%.

The underemployment rate in the working-age group in the first quarter of 2020 was 1.98%; the second quarter of 2020 was 2.98%; the third quarter of 2020 was 2.72%; the fourth quarter of 2020 was 1.82%; the first quarter of 2021 was 2.20%; the second quarter of 2021 was 2.60% and the third quarter of 2021 was 4.39%.

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About the authors

Hai Binh Le

Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

Email: lehaibinh@dav.edu.vn
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-4233-3175

Ph.D. (Economics), Former Vice President

Viet Nam, Hanoi

Thanh Ha Lam

Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

Author for correspondence.
Email: lamthanhha@dav.edu.vn
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2174-555X

Ph.D. (Economics), Vice Dean, World Economy Faculty

Viet Nam, Hanoi

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Supplementary files

Supplementary Files
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1. Graph 1. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).

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2. Graph 2. The general number of passengers transported in 9 months of 2018–2021.

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3. Graph 3. The number of foreign visitors coming to Vietnam in 9 months of 2018–2021.

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4. Graph 4: Foreign visitors to Vietnam according to geographic areas in 9 months of 2021.

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5. Graph 5: Enterprises completed dissolution procedures 9 months 2021 by kinds of activity.

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6. Graph 6: Vietnam’s structure of export commodities in 9 months of 2021.

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7. Graph 7. Vietnam’s largest export markets over the first 9 months of 2019-2021

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8. Graph 8. The growth rate of retail sales of product groups in 9 months of 2019–2021

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Copyright (c) 2021 Le H.B., Lam T.H.

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