Vietnam devalues dong to aid exports

HANOI - Vietnam's central bank devalued the dong for the first time in a year to help spur exports and vowed to ensure the stability of the currency as tension rises over a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters.

The State Bank of Vietnam devalued the dong by weakening its reference rate for the currency by 1% to 21,246 per dollar, according to a statement on its website late Wednesday. The change, effective Thursday, allows the dong to fluctuate as much as 1% on either side of the central banks fixing.

The dong fell 0.4% to 21,320 as of 11:23am in Hanoi (10.23am Thailand time) and touched 21,360 earlier, prices from banks compiled by Bloomberg show. That was the biggest drop since the currency was last devalued, also by 1%, on June 28, 2013. The central bank has said several times this year that it aims to weaken the dong as much as 2% in 2014. The benchmark VN Index of shares fell 0.6%.

''This move is expected, even though the fundamental macro situation is pretty stable,'' said Lai Tat Ha, head of currency trading at Hanoi-based Vietnam Technological & Commercial Joint- Stock Bank. ''It's because the dong's exchange rate had been anchored for a year and the government is seeking ways to boost exports.''

Vietnam's policy makers are trying to bolster an economy that the World Bank estimates will grow 5.4% this year, slower than a government target of 5.8%. Last month's violent protests following China's placement of an oil rig in disputed waters halted production at foreign-owned factories and caused Chinese workers to flee. The government will closely monitor sectors that may be affected and take suitable actions, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said June 12.

After adjusting the dong's exchange rate, the State Bank will take comprehensive measures and use monetary tools to ensure the stability of the foreign currency market, the monetary authority said in the statement.

Consumer-price gains have stayed below 5% in the last four months, official data show. The government is targetting a 10% increase in exports this year to $145.4 billion. Overseas sales rose 15.4% in January through May from a year earlier.

''Vietnam had a balance-of-payments surplus of more than $10 billion over the same period,'' the central bank said in Wednesday's statement.

Given that inflation was curbed to a low level in the first five months and the dong was kept stable over the past year, the central bank adjusted the dong's exchange rate in order to help achieve the governments economic targets, the monetary authority said in the statement.

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