Foreign investors purchasing assets of a Vietnamese company

Purchasing existing assets of a Vietnamese company may be an option for a foreign investor who wants to overcome the foreign ownership limit applicable to a public company or wants to avoid (or cheery pick) the liabilities associated with the target company. However, there are certain issues associated with an asset deal:

  • Usually, the foreign investor cannot directly own assets especially land use rights and buildings in Vietnam. Accordingly, the foreign investor would need to set up its own subsidiary in Vietnam (Buyer Sub) to acquire the target assets from the Vietnamese seller. And the asset transfer agreement needs to be entered into between the Vietnamese seller and the Buyer Sub. However, from the seller’s perspective, the Buyer Sub is not a company of substance at least until the Buyer Sub’s capital is fully paid up and as such the foreign investor may need to act as a party to the asset purchase agreement and to be liable for the Buyer Sub’s performance;
  • There is a risk that the foreign investor cannot set up the Buyer Sub as this may involve a discretionary investment evaluation process by the licensing authority. So even if the foreign buyer and the Vietnamese seller have agreed to a definitive agreement, the agreement cannot be completed until the Buyer Sub is set up. This is a risk that both the Buyer Sub and a target company have to consider when negotiating an asset deal;
  • An asset purchase agreement between the Buyer Sub and a target company being a contract between two companies in Vietnam is likely to be subject to Vietnamese governing law. In addition, it is more likely than not that land use right and buildings are part of the target assets. In such case, the asset purchase agreement (or at least the part relating to land use right and buildings) may be subject to jurisdiction of the Vietnamese courts;
  • An asset purchase agreement between the Buyer Sub and a Vietnamese seller being a contract between two companies in Vietnam will need to be settled in Vietnamese Dong under the foreign exchange regulations. As such, it may be difficult for the Vietnamese seller to fix the transfer price in US$;
  • If the transferred assets include assets the ownership of which is subject to registration such as trademarks, buildings and land use rights then the parties may need to enter into separate transfer instruments for the purpose of filing with the relevant authorities. Transfer instruments relating to real estate in Vietnam must usually be notarized. As such there is a risk that there is inconsistency between the notarized transfer instrument and the asset transfer agreement which are not notarised;
  • The transferred assets might involve numerous contracts and require third party’s consents. The Civil Code requires the transfer of rights to demand to be notified to the obligors. In addition, transfer of receivables will need to be registered with the National Department of Registration of Security Interests. The Civil Code requires the transfer of obligations to be consented by the obligee. Therefore, if the target company has substantial external debts and has granted security interest over its assets, it may be difficult to obtain consents from the target company’s lenders for the transfer of assets unless simultaneous or escrowed closing can be arranged to ensure that the lenders will be repaid.