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Covid-19 forces some retailers to rethink Vietnam as manufacturing hub

  • Published at 10:13 am September 25th, 2021
Vietnam RMG apparel
Labourers work at Hung Viet garment export factory in Hung Yen province, Vietnam December 30, 2020 Reuters

The risk has grown for a number of other retailers, which have been hampered by supply-chain delays as they wait for production facilities in Vietnam to get back up and running

Prolonged Covid-19 restrictions in Vietnam have become a bigger headache for retailers, particularly those that rely on the region for manufacturing footwear and apparel, as the holiday season approaches.

The worries led Wall Street research firm BTIG to downgrade Nike shares last week. BTIG cited serious production issues for the sneaker maker since it last reported earnings, reports CNBC.

Supply chain challenges are expected to be a hot topic when Nike's next fiscal quarter financial report drops after the stock market closes next Thursday.

The troubles go beyond Nike. 

The risk has grown for a number of other retailers, which have been hampered by supply-chain delays as they wait for production facilities in Vietnam to get back up and running, according to recent comments to analysts and investors.

The difficulties have even made some companies reconsider decisions to move production out of China and into Vietnam.

Also Read - BGMEA: Bangladesh overtakes Vietnam in RMG earnings from Jan-July'21

On Monday, authorities announced a two-week extension of restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's business hub and Covid outbreak epicenter.

Under the restrictions, factories have been subject to rules that require them to either keep workers on site or completely suspend operations.

Experts also note that restrictions in northern Vietnam have not been as stringent as rules in the southern part of the country.

Some retailers have expressed hope the pressure will ease.

Leggings maker Lululemon has said it anticipated factories in Vietnam would start a phased reopening in the middle of September.

The high-end furniture chain RH, meantime, has targeted a restart in southern Vietnam in October. 

It hopes to ramp up production to full capacity by the end of the year.

The manufacturing slowdown, coupled with longer transit times and heightened transportation costs, led RH to delay the launch of its contemporary furniture collection until next spring. It also delayed mailing fall catalogs.

For now, many businesses are watching and waiting to see how the restrictions and manufacturing activity will evolve. 

But the picture will likely grow bleaker as the holidays approach.

Also Read - OP-ED: What did Vietnam do that we could not?

The obstacles in Vietnam join a litany of other supply chain troubles, ranging from a shortage of cargo shipping containers to backlogged ports and a limited number of truck drivers. 

Some companies that moved manufacturing out of China and into Vietnam in the past few years — in a bid to diversify their supply chains and avoid tariffs — have gone as far as to say they are bringing production back to China.

During a presentation with investors last week, Designer Brands Chief Executive Officer Roger Rawlins said he spoke to another industry CEO who told him that because of the slowdown in Vietnam, six years of supply chain work was undone in six days.

"When you think about the amount of effort everyone was putting into getting out of China, and now one of the only places where you can get the goods is China," Rawlins said. 

"It really is crazy, the roller coaster everyone has been on here."

Rawlins noted that because Designer Brands sells less workout apparel and performance footwear, such as running and basketball shoes, the company has fared better than some of its peers through the lockdown measures in Vietnam. 

Categories including so-called athleisure have traditionally relied on the country.

The retail companies with some of the greatest exposure to Vietnam include Ugg and Hoka parent Deckers Outdoor, Michael Kors parent Capri Holdings, Columbia Sportswear, Nike, Coach owner Tapestry, Under Armour and Lululemon, according to an analysis by BTIG.

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