by Keith Hilden
HO CHI MINH CITY/PHNOM PENH- Skyscrapers are the temples of our modern age. Thousands of years ago communities organized themselves around the temple, as it surrounded other aspects of everyday life, and defacto became the commercial center of the community. Businesses and residences around the main temples became very wealthy and this can be seen in such historical sites such as within Cambodia’s Angkor Wat itself, once the center of Southeast Asia’s largest city almost 1000 years ago. We can recently with new scientific technology be able to ascertain that Siem Reap’s urban sprawl was over 400 square miles far– with Angkor Wat as the city’s commercial and spiritual centerpiece, within which all commerce and society revolved around.
Once Southeast Asia’s largest city, Siem Reap’s breathtaking Angkor Wat remains a linchpin of economic gravity in the city, as even the airport is closely nestled to the temple itself for easy transport to and from one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Phnom Penh was built in 1434 by King decree around the iconic Wat Phnom that straddles between the prominent and prosperous streets of Preah Monivong and Sisowath Quay- and the economic center of this city remains in this area just as it has been for over 600 years. And the Vattanac Capital Tower, Cambodia’s tallest and most preminent skyscraper, continues this trend of the city center built around the most revered temple in the city. Commercialism today in Phnom Penh is alive and well, and reveration upon the US dollar is, in these days, an interesting dollarization historic relic and tradition from the past that continues, as US dollar transactions continue to dominate the commercial landscape in modern Phnom Penh.
Another example can be found at Bangkok’s famous Wat Phra Kaew built by the King of Thailand of years past houses the Emerald Buddha, the symbol and guarantee of Thailand’s continued economic and sovereign vitality. With the Emerald Buddha firmly in Thailand’s possession, the country’s prosperity continues. Without it, legend says, Thailand ceases to exist. And so the Emerald Buddha is situated in the temple that to this day is still, as it was hundreds of years ago, the very center of Thai society and commerce. Any Google Maps search will quickly confirm that the center of Bangkok’s past is still the center of the city to our present day.
Just as land was snapped up around the Angkor Wat, Wat Phnom, and Wat Phra Kaew, and these centers were the solid hubs of commerce of these cities, land is being snapped up at a rapid pace around the most important predominant temple hubs of our world today- our leading skyscrapers.
As our crowdfunders and Squawk Hawk newsletter readers already know, within the last 6 months we laid out through our Land to Skyscraper Index (LS Index), we have since seen multi-billion USD investments into Saigon’s Thu Thiem, led by Lotte and other groups of international consortiums. Whether you refer to our LS Index, or you simply call it Templenomics, there’s certainly an Whether you refer to our LS Index, or you simply call it Templenomics, there’s certainly an economic dynamic here to explore– and to participate and profit from. If you have not yet read our report featured at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam explaining why, please read the summary.
The very landscape of the Thu Thiem area has had the very contrast of night and day, as the jungle foliage at the time of our last visit in Winter 2014 has been replaced by temporary service roads and the remaining drainage of the swampy wetland terrain preparing it to be a central business district and homestead of Saigon’s future. And various projects strike their first support beams in the soil, and the construction cranes arrive and align almost as if a kind of procession or developmental ceremony is underway.
IMAGE: As the Bitexco Financial Tower sits just to the left of the center of the skyline, an assembly of cranes and other construction equipment begin to congregate.
And when we get to the epicenter of the very heartbeat of the Vietnamese economy, we find empty land available for development, as the following video and pictures we shot on the scene shows.
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IMAGE: So many construction vehicles clearing the land so close to the very epicenter of a country’s economy is an absolute rarity in our world today, and a sight to behold that will only be temporary before the landscape is completely transformed.
IMAGE: A wooden roll empty of coil sits in grassland, rapidly to be replaced by some of the largest developmental projects and buildings Vietnam has ever seen in its history. The billboard above talks about defending Vietnam’s sea borders.
IMAGE: Temporary propaganda billboards dot the pre-development landscape as two young boys enjoy the riverview before the largest skyscraper in Ho Chi Minh City.
IMAGE: The dirt road and the patches of mud and grass behind the motorcycle offer a real feeling as to how empty the land is on the other side of the river. Locals use this riverside for the meantime to drink ca phe sua da, the country’s trademark way to drink coffee with condensed milk, along with tra da, a jasmine tea, alongside conversation with friends.
The Players Involved
There are many players who are making such an ambitious project come together to build a new downtown for Ho Chi Minh City, and we are going to lay out the players in this development so you can profit on literally the last premium urban land development of its kind, in an incredible close proximity to the tallest skyscraper in the most bustling commercial hub of Vietnam. Remember from our previous research report, that only Phnom Penh comes at a close second in the world, at a fraction of Thu Thiem’s size, offering such massive land plots next to the respective countries’ iconic tallest skyscrapers. For international developers wanting to develop a large project next to the city’s dominant skyline tower, there are such few options in the world that global development capital will inevitably invest into these areas. And knowing the key players in these developments will do wonders for your portfolio as you can get a piece of the action.
For those looking at how to position themselves to benefit from such a groundbreaking project, these are the players involved to invest in. This section has been divided into public equity and private equity players, so please view the section you are interested in respectively.
Public Equity Players
SAI GON THUONG TIN REAL ESTATE JSC (HNX: SCR)
IMAGE: From RongViet Securities
Sacomreal has had a bit of downturn in its stock price that follows closely with the general trend of the Vietnam market easing downwards as it finally catches a bit of China’s cold from the ailing markets of its northern neighbor. Most of the Thu Thiem projects are not built to the point to make real estate sales at this point, so successful sales of Thu Thiem projects should be sufficient to raise the stock price of this company.
In other neighborhoods in HCMC, there is also plenty of action. The company has just completed this year a range of apartments in the affluent District 7 area of HCMC that are– this year– going for less than the price of a Cadillac Escalade: only $30,000 cash in hand in 2015 gets you the keys to your Vietnam condo. Or, simply stated otherwise, for less than their student loan payments, Americans can now buy apartments in some of the most affluent districts of Saigon starting at $150 a month– if you know the right way to finance your purchase. And this property project development is being guaranteed by a vanguard of Vietnam banks, due to their confidence in Sacomreal’s projects. The foreign ownership of real estate has been fully authorized in Vietnam, so the doors are wide open to real estate opportunities in this country. Check out our Squawk Hawk newsletter for much more information on this very promising Thu Thiem and HCMC development play.
FECON FOUNDATION ENGINEERING & UNDERGROUND CONSTRUCTION JSC (HOSE: FCN)
Fecon Shanghai has been involved in the foundation construction and underground construction of Thu Thiem, and they have recently nailed a new contract in Thu Thiem, which shows that they are competitive enough to successively gain contracts in the land. They have garnered over $20 million in contracts, although wait for this company to announce its raft of lucrative contracts with Korean behemoth Samsung before you invest into this company. Definitely a company worth watching to see if they can nail the contracts they are currently in negotiations with.
VIETNAM COMMERCIAL JOINT STOCK EXPORT IMPORT BANK (HOSE: EIB)
Much of what constitutes a good bank in Vietnam nowadays counts upon the bad debt ratio and its success of selling its bad debt to the national bad debt facilitator, the VAMC. The State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has required all banks to reduce their bad debt and amid over 10% in credit growth in Vietnam dong denominated loans coupled with strict measures to bring the national bad debt ratio below 3%, it would be wise to wait until the next SBV deadline on October 1 as it assesses bad debt levels. Banks judged to have a bad debt ratio over 3% will not be permitted to expand its operations until they clean their act up. While Eximbank’s bad debt ratio was last reported at the beginning of the year at 2.41%, it is still prudent to see the SBV’s take on Eximbank, and to see if the SBV will give the bank the greenlight to expand. Then Eximbank will be free to take on more promising projects in Thu Thiem as the area continues to attract developments from both local and international developers. While other banks in Vietnam are talking about getting involved in Thu Thiem development, the Squawk on the ground clearly shows Eximbank as a Thu Thiem market leader, and the only bank on the ground moving and shaking.
4. The Trifecta– Lotte, Mitsubishi, Toshiba
Lotte, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba have formed a trifecta to build a $2.2 billion dollar Eco Smart City in the Thu Thiem area, and as this massive investment pays off, there is a lot of potential for large returns to be reaped to these companies and the investors that have holdings with them. For public equity investors, the two public quotes of company subsidiaries that are active in the Thu Thiem development are Lotte Shopping, but much of the activities present in Thu Thiem would fall under Lotte Asset Development Co., which is a private company. This means investing in Lotte’s activities would either be a private investment deal, or it would consist of investing in the property units completed after construction.
Hotel Lotte and Lotte Engineering & Construction Co. could be interesting private equity plays, however, especially after the chaebol dynasty struggle and recent unseating of the 92 year old Lotte chairman, unwillingly so, to his sons to carry on the business. In volatility is opportunity, and so there might be opportunities present in the family feud power struggle to work closely or invest with Lotte that previously was not there when the previous chairman held reigns over the conglomerate. Interestingly, the son that took over the reigns of Lotte group did not marry the daughter of another chaebol or the daughter from another powerful Korean company, but instead married a Japanese lady this year. This means all the expectations of a company like Lotte merging with another company with marriage being a main catalyst such as things are in Korea– is not to occur this time. Look to the Korean dramas on TV if you want a story of sons and daughters pairing up from Korea’s largest companies to form the next supercorporation– not going to happen this generation.
Mitsubishi’s development activities in HCMC are under the Mitsubishi Estate portion of the Mitsubishi zaibatsu corporation. Mitsubishi Estate’s stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has performed very well in the last 3 years, almost doubling from its starting point. Mitsubishi Estate is also working on other massive projects in Asia, such as the Chengdu Township Development Project in China it is jointly developing with Singapore-based infrastructure company Surbana.
Toshiba’s recent accounting scandal has brought shame in a company looking to improve its image– and its stock price. Toshiba’s stock price has been battered about, and resulted in the head of Toshiba stepping down. I don’t think capital should reward a company that has misrepresented itself to investors to the tune of almost $1.2 billion, as it is a disgusting display of the misuse of capitalism, but to those who wish to look into it, look up the stock chart and Toshiba’s 1 year drop of over 35%.
Cotec Construction Joint Stock Company (HOSE: CTD)
Cotec Construction has also been spotted in the area near the Dai Quang Minh and Hoa Binh developments just off of Mai Chi Tho, and in the last 3 months that Thu Thiem’s construction activity has really picked up, Cotec Construction’s stock has gone up over 50% during this time period.
7.Hoa Binh Construction
Hoa Binh Construction & Real Estate Corporation (HOSE: HBC)
This company has been spotted with some sizable developments right off the Dai Quang Minh development area off Mai Chi Tho, and they are building residential villas. The stock’s freefall has been precipitated by the untimely dumping of company shares by the Deputy CEO in mid-July, and clearly the stock has not recovered from July’s massive liquidation.
Private Equity Players
For those who wish to get their hands a bit more involved in the investment process and reap profits as a strategic investor, these are the private players that matter in the development of Thu Thiem. Our Squawk Hawk newsletter subscribers are finding out how these companies are key players, and the very interesting things they are doing to transform the land into profits. For now, here’s a basic summary of the players. For those of you that are public equity focused, Vietnam’s market capitalization to GDP in its stock markets is well below the global average, which means the market has the capacity to have many more companies go public. Hence, these companies are ones to watch in the public equity sphere as well as possible IPOs in the future.
Dai Quang Minh-
This is one of the first real estate projects in Thu Thiem, and certainly the Khu Do Thi Sala project is the biggest so far, with sales of units having already begun. The Sala project is huge, and encompasses easily over a quarter of the Thu Thiem area on the southern end along Mai Chi Tho. This area is the first realization of the Thu Thiem area as an area for comfortable living in Ho Chi Minh City.
Anphong Construction and CII-
These companies easily are the most visible local brands on all the construction going up in the area– these are the major players who have really pioneered forward on the development of Thu Thiem, and these are major players to watch along with Lotte, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba.
This is a construction company also active in the area, cooperating with Sacomreal in some projects being built along Mai Chi Tho in the Khu Do Thi Sala area. Think of them as a complementary dynamic to Sacomreal’s activities and profits in Thu Thiem.
This is a major Korean player with presence all over Vietnam, with a sizable portfolio of completed projects and projects under construction. They head interesting projects in their home country of Korea also, as they engineer the building of a Free Economic Zone and a Techno Valley at home, while they engineer a wide array of projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and elsewhere in Asia and across the world. They have a solid track record of projects in Vietnam, and they are an interesting proxy of economic development in frontier countries such as Vietnam. A solid company worth watching, and one that we would consider investing in.
This is a company with a track record in Vietnam stretching from the 1990’s. They decided to build their newest concrete factory in Thu Thiem, unveiled just this May. Consider this a market signal of building material companies anticipating a boom of construction in this area, and positioning themselves accordingly.
As we laid out before, such a large expanse of land so near to the tallest skyscraper in the country’s predominant commercial hub exists nowhere else on this planet, and international development giants like Lotte and Mitusbishi are waking up to this simple reality. Available land plots elsewhere are smaller in comparison, with Phnom Penh’s newly drained Former Boeung Kak area being the second largest option in the world for international premium urban land developers looking to place their next big project nestled next to the predominant commercial hub’s tallest tower.
This market opportunity is simply the result of the human condition to organize themselves around the predominant symbols of their age, as it always has been, and always will be. And the Bitexco Financial Tower and the Vattanac Capital Tower in Phnom Penh are these symbols of prosperity and hope that humans will ultimately flock to. Hence a realization of a rise in property prices— and your portfolio.
To not invest in the Boeung Kak Lake area around Vattanac Capital Tower is to refute 600 years of economic history stating where the commercial center of the city lies, and the subsequent prosperity that comes to the city centers of metropolises all over the world. For those who are willing to consult the temples of the past and the prosperity in which they brought to these cities, a truly historical investment opportunity awaits in both the Boeung Kak Lake area and Thu Thiem.
The Boeung Kak Story
The players in Cambodia are an interesting mix, one that our crowdfunders and our Squawk Hawk newsletter subscribers are finding a very interesting investment play in the Boeung Kak Lake region and other fascinating opportunities in Cambodia at the moment. By all means though, see for yourself, with our video of the current development environment in Boeung Kak now.
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As the Boeung Kak Opportunity Unfolds
While the players in Thu Thiem have since positioned themselves, and multi-billion USD in capital has moved in, the story is just getting started in Phnom Penh. While there is still land available in Thu Thiem, there is much more available in Boeung Kak area, which allows more levity for a land investment play from the ground up. In contrast, the investment environment in Thu Thiem is more of investing in existing key companies and investing in the finished real estate once completed. Both are solid investment opportunities, but the Boeung Kak development allows investors to position themselves to gain first mover advantages. Our Squawk Hawk newsletter subscribers are getting wind of the various opportunities that reside in the Boeung Kak development, and the opportunities that are yet to be created by you, the investor.
Yet scales of this kind of development are not foreign to Cambodia. The ancient Khmers built Siem Reap around Angkor Wat to a city size as large as modern Phoenix today, and the modern Khmers today intend to surpass Phnom Penh’s scale itself with a project called ING City. This is a massive investment project underway that will be roughly as large as Phnom Penh is today, with a supermodern approach to development. By comparison, the expanse of land around Boeung Kak in direct view of the Vattanac Capital will not be difficult to develop. Here is an idea of how ING City stands to almost outright eclipse Phnom Penh city itself.
In peace and diligence, wishing you the best of profits,
Asia Pacific Director, Squawkonomics
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