Sunday, September 09, 2007

Investor Seeks the 'Next China' in Vietnam

Mekong Capital Scouts
For Opportunities
In Transforming Market
September 8, 2007; Page B1

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Over the years, dreams of hitting it big in this country -- often pitched to foreign investors as the "next China" -- have been routinely dashed by bureaucracy, corruption or financial crisis.

Just ask Chris Freund.

He has been here since the mid-1990s, when he arrived to build a new Vietnam fund for Franklin Templeton Investments. Then came 1997's Asian financial crisis. The fund folded; Mr. Freund retreated to Singapore.

Now he is back running his own private-equity firm, Mekong Capital, amid Vietnam's latest effort to transform itself into a more-open economy. The firm, with about $160 million under management, has invested in makers of clothes, mobile phones and men's hair-care products, among other businesses.

The latest bump in the road: the recent turmoil in global markets. Vietnam's tiny market fell 5% since July 24, the day before Asia markets went haywire, though it is still up 24% for the year.