Manulife Vietnam Fund Management Company has generated VND215 billion ($13.6 million) for its Manulife Progressive Fund, just 85% of its target.

Mark Canizares, Ho Chi Minh-based investment director at Manulife Vietnam and manager of the fund, says the fund attracted more than 1000 retail and institutional investors.

Canizares says his focus will be finding stocks with better corporate governance, high quality earnings, and long-term potential. He notes that while there are around 200 listed shares in Vietnam, he will likely focus on the 20-30 stocks that account for most the $20 billion in market capitalization. He will also invest among the 3,000 shares available in the over-the-counter market.

ôThe fund will give investors access to VietnamÆs rapid economic development and the strong long-term performance expected from its equity market,ö says Canizares, who joined Manulife Vietnam in February. Previously, he was head of Hong Kong and China research at CitisecOnline, an online brokerage company in the Philippines.

Investors bullish about Vietnam cite the economyÆs stable economic growth of between 7%-8% and manageable inflation.

VietnamÆs stock market has been among the best performers in Asia in recent years. However, a recent correction in the stock market due to concerns over overvaluation, the lowering of limits on lending for stock market-related transactions, and the increase in banksÆ reserve requirement has provided investors with buying opportunities.

ôAlthough there have been recent concerns over the sustainability of the stock marketÆs gains, investors have not changed their long-term outlook of the market,ö Canizares says.

While the spotlight is turning to Vietnam, many international fund managers are still hesitating on that stock market, which is among the least liquid in this region. Fund managers who are not yet actively investing in Vietnam say the market is too small to bother with and wouldnÆt be worth their time and resources for now.

Canizares, who is supported by an analyst and a team of 20 including operations staff, says the key to investing in an emerging market such as Vietnam is to have a local presence in the market.

ôWe are building our team on the ground,ö he says. ôWe want to bridge the information gap that challenges other international fund managers.ö