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Dollars at your doorstep   2009-10-22 - VietNamNet/SGTT

The needs of businesses without ready access to ‘official’ dollars are fueling an informal money market with a new wrinkle: home and office delivery. 


“How much do you need?”


The owner of a fashion shop phoned HK, a gold shop in the Cholon section of HCM City, saying that she needed $20,000 urgently.  “Just stay at home and wait,” she was told.  An officer of HK gold shop would deliver the dollars to her, all new 100 dollar bank notes. The price quoted was 18,290 dong per dollar, not quite 2.5 percent above the ‘official rate.’


The fashion shop owner then called MK gold shop, also in Cholon, with the same question. She was told that she’d get 18,287 dong per dollar, or three dong less per dollar than the price quoted by HK.  MK also promised to deliver ‘the goods’ within 15 minutes, if she’d agree to take $2000 of the amount in 50 dollar bank notes.


Saigon Tiep Thi’s reporters, posing as dollar buyers, have learned that among the five addresses that the small merchants of Ben Thanh Market always contact to purchase dollars, the TH shop in District 10 seems to provide ‘goods’ at the lowest price, always 10 dong per dollar lower than the average level. TH offered dollars on the same day for just 18,280 dong per dollar.


Finally, the fashion shop owner decided to purchase dollars from TH. Thirty minutes later, a man and a woman, arrived with the money. It seemed unbelievable that the woman’s pink backpack contained hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The woman quickly extracted a wad of 100 dollar bank notes for the the fashion shop owner to count.  In exchange, she received nearly 400 million dong from the shop owner, discovered a torn 500,000 dong bank note, and asked for another.


The shop owner also needed 2000 Euros and 10,000 yuan, the Chinese currency.  Not blinking an eye, the woman from the TH gold shop immediately took out from her backpack a wad of euro bank notes and counted.  She did not have enough yuan in her backpack, but she promised to return with it in 30 minutes.


The woman disclosed that she delivers ‘goods’ to clients every day.  She returns to the shop every two hours to turn in receipts and pick up more ‘goods.’  Her turnover every four hours is 2.5 billion dong, about $140,000.


When she was asked if she feels unsafe when carrying so much cash, she pointed to her ‘disguise.’  “No one would imagine that this mediocre backpack brings so much money,” she said.


In-door service benefits all


In Vietnam, purchasing and selling foreign currency in the black market is illegal. The State Bank of Vietnam, while maintaining an official ceiling rate of 17,885 dong to the dollar, has been tightening control over the foreign currency transactions. Some unlicensed foreign currency conversion centres have been shut down. Therefore, black market transactions have ‘gone indoors.’


Nguyen Hung, an experienced real estate broker who frequently purchases dollars from gold shops, said that ‘in-door service’ benefits both the sellers and buyers.  “You just need to call them (gold shops) to ask for dollars,” he said. “They will bring dollars to you, no matter if they don’t know you yet.”


Hung went on to say that currency sellers prefer to deliver ‘goods’ at shops, companies or cafés. If they are asked to bring money to clients’ homes, they will bring limited sums of money in order to reduce their risks.


Both Hung and the fashion shop owner confirmed the convenience of the ‘in-door currency trading service’.


As the service providers are gold traders as well, they always agree to convert gold into foreign currencies, and vice versa.


Another customer, Truong, also from HCM City’s District 5 (Cho Lon), related that she has just purchased a house on Nguyen Trai street.


“The house seller asked me to pay in gold, though my savings were in dollars. Therefore, I called KH Gold shop, which then sent staff to bring gold to me and get money from me. I could sell dollars at higher than the official price, while I could purchase gold from the shop for lower than the market price,” she said.


A gold shop owner in district 3 related that because the State Bank has tightened control over foreign currency transactions, gold shops have had to recruit more workers to provide ‘in-door service’.

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