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Foreign-invested firms dominate rankings of best workplaces, but Vietnamese peers are more conspicuous in the top 20.

Vietnamese dairy giant Vinamilk remained the best company to work in the country for the second year in a row as per the 2018 "Best Places to Work" survey, which listed the 100 best workplaces in Vietnam. 

Vinamilk was followed by Vietcombank, Nestle, Samsung Vina Electronics and Vietnamese telco giant Viettel. This continued Vietnamese firms’ dominance of the top five, while the number of local firms in the top 20 went up from six the previous year to eight last year.  

The survey results were released Wednesday by local career network service Anphabe and U.S.-based market research firm Nielsen.

In its sixth year, the survey was the largest ever conducted, collecting feedback from a pool of 75,481 respondents working in 24 different sectors. Rankings were based on salary levels, bonuses, welfare and work-life balance for employees.

Once again, multinational giant Unilever failed to show up in the top 100 listing.(See the complete top 100 in 2018 here)

Many Vietnamese firms on the list also improved their rankings last year, including Techcombank (16th to 9th), Vietnam's largest private conglomerate Vingroup (31st to 23rd), PNJ (51st to 27th), and budget carrier Vietjet Air (70th to 62nd).

Overall, there were 27 local firms in the top 100 list.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) will lend $100 million to Orient Commercial Joint Stock Bank (OCB) towards extending credit to SMEs.

The long-term financial package provided by IFC, a World Bank affiliate, will comprise $57.16 million from its own capital, and another $42.84 million raised from other sponsors through the corporation’s Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program.

OCB aims to use at least 50 percent of this loan to finance women-owned or managed SMEs, with support from the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).

We-Fi is a multi-government and bank partnership aimed at unlock financing for women-led/owned businesses in developing countries.

An IFC announcement Wednesday morning said it would also provide consultancy services alongside the finance package, facilitating OCB in providing loans to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). 

In addition, the IFC will help the local bank develop supply chain financing, which involves lending to SMEs without collateral.  

According to the IFC, SMEs account for 98 percent of total enterprises in Vietnam. This is the main source of job creation in Vietnam, employing more than half of the workforce and contributing about 40 percent of the country's GDP.

However, about 60 percent of SMEs face a shortage of capital, which the credit institution estimates at $21 billion. Access to finance, according to IFC, is the key to unlocking the potential of SMEs.

According to the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), only 30 percent of SMEs in Vietnam have access to loans from the formal sector, with the rest having to use their own funds or depend on unregulated, informal loans. 

Vietnam moves up 13 places on Economic Freedom Index, but remains in the ‘mostly unfree’ class.

the Heritage Foundation, an American conservative public policy thinktank based in Washington, D.C.,Vietnam is ranked 128th out of 180 countries and territories on the 2019 Economic Freedom Index, up 13 places from last year.  

On this index, it fares unfavorably against Southeast Asian peers like Singapore (2nd), Thailand (43rd), Indonesia (56th) and the Philippines (70th).

Its overall score increased by 2.2 points from last year to 55.3 thanks to improvements in fiscal health, investment freedom and judicial effectiveness, according the report. 

However, tax burden, monetary freedom and financial freedom are still inhibited.

Vietnam finished 30th out of 43 countries in the Asia Pacific region, below China and its smaller neighbors Cambodia and Laos.

The U.S. foundation said that Vietnam could improve its economic environment by continuing to reform state-owned enterprises, reducing red tape, increasing transparency in the business and financial sectors, reducing bad debt in the banking sector and increasing recognition of private property rights.

The ranking is based on 12 quantitative and qualitative factors grouped into four broad categories, including rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency and open markets to measure economic freedom in 180 countries and territories across the world.

The world average score is 60.8, classifying the global economy as "moderately free".

Only six economies are classed as "free" by earning scores of 80 or above. Hong Kong and Singapore finished first and second in the rankings for the 25th consecutive year, followed by New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia and Ireland.

The world’s biggest economy, the U.S. ranked 12th globally, jumping six places from the last year’s ranking while China is far behind in 100th place.

This year, the number of economies ranked as ‘mostly unfree’ stands at 64, while 21 are considered "repressed".

Vietnam’s economy expanded 7.08 percent last year, which helped the country retain its status as one of the best performing economies in the world.

It was the highest growth the country has experienced since 2008 and compared with the median estimate of 6.9 percent in a Bloomberg survey of 12 economists.

Low water levels and threat of a drought in Vietnam’s main coffee growing region would hurt this year’s output in the world’s second-biggest producer of the bean.

The Central Highlands, Vietnam’s main coffee growing region, is in the peak of its dry season, which lasts from November to April, and several provinces have recorded low water levels in both rivers and water reservoirs, local media have reported.

"At the beginning of the dry season, some areas of the Central Highlands severely lacked water and drought is expected to be severe during the dry season," the Vietnam Coffee and Cacao Association said in a statement on Tuesday.

Rain is expected at a lower-than-average level during February-May this year but could pick up to the average level during May-August, the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting agency said in its latest forecast on Feb. 15.

Falling coffee prices also discouraged farmers from looking after the coffee trees, the association said, adding that it could affect the beans’ quality and output for the 2018/2019 crop year, for which harvest is due around November or December.

"Coffee output of this crop year and the crop year after that will fall significantly," the association said, adding that the coffee plants are also affected by insects.

Domestic coffee prices COFVN-DAK have fallen much from a six-year high reached in March 2017 of 47,650 dong ($2.05) to hover in between 32,700-38,250 dong so far this crop year, Reuters data showed.

Reuters poll last month showed Vietnam’s coffee output is expected at 30 million 60-kg bags in the 2018/2019 crop year, up from an earlier estimate of 28.5 million bags.

The United States Department of Agriculture in December also revised up its 2018/2019 coffee output estimate for Vietnam, including both robusta and arabica production, to 30.4 million bags from a 29.9-million-bag forecast earlier.

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