UPDATE 1-Vietnam tells Agribank to slow lending-state media

Mon Feb 1, 2010 4:09am GMT

(Adds details)

HANOI Feb 1 (Reuters) - Vietnam's central bank has asked the country's largest bank by assets, Agribank, to slow lending this year to a rate of at least 20 percent, after the bank's loans jumped 24.4 percent last year, a state-run newspaper said.

State Bank of Vietnam Governor Nguyen Van Giau told the Hanoi-based lender to use its role as the top state-run bank to contribute to stabilising the money market and strictly implement policies, the central bank-run Banking Times newspaper reported.

The central bank aimed to keep Vietnam's credit growth this year at 25 percent, after a jump of about 38 percent in 2009 stoked fears of a return to high inflation.

Credit growth soared last year in large part because of a government stimulus package anchored by a loan subsidy scheme under which the government paid four percentage points of interest on business loans.

Agribank needed to increase loans to agriculture and rural areas to at least 75 percent of its outstanding loans in 2010, from 68.3 percent last year, Giau was quoted as telling the lender at its annual meeting last Friday.

Agribank, or the Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, which is unlisted, reported outstanding loans jumped last year to 354.11 trillion dong ($19.2 billion), 241.86 trillion dong of which went to rural areas.

Its bad debt ratio stood at 2.6 percent of loans last year, in line with its own target of keeping the rate below 5 percent.

The newspaper did not give a profit value but said the lender beat its own annual gross profit by 55 percent.

Agribank has reported its audited gross profit in 2008 dropped 23 percent to 3.97 trillion dong, after initial industry reports put the profit rise at 43 percent. It had forecast an annual profit growth of 10 percent for 2009. [nHAN90330]

The Banking Times newspaper said Agribank lent 8.21 trillion dong by the end of 2009 to help purchase food including rice stocks, soaring 145 percent from a year ago, while loans extended to coffee export business also jumped 145 percent to 3.66 trillion dong.

Rice and coffee are Vietnam's largest cash earners among its exportable agricultural products, which help rank the country as the world's second-largest exporter in rice sales after Thailand and in coffee business after Brazil.

For Agribank rating, click on [nWNA4370].

For Agribank rank, click on [nHAN501650].

(Reporting by Ho Binh Minh. Editing by Jason Szep)

((ho.minh@thomsonreuters.com; +844 3825 9623; Reuters Messaging: ho.minh.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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