ThaiBev is sole bidder for RM8b Sabeco stake

TOKYO • A unit of Thai Beverage pcl (ThaiBev) is the only investor to register to buy at least a 25% stake in Vietnam’s largest beer company, according to the Vietnam trade ministry’s website, in a sale that would be valued at more than US$2 billion (RM8.16 billion).

ThaiBev was one of about a half-dozen foreign companies, including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd, that expressed an interest in bidding for Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp, or Sabeco as the company is known.

The closing date for registration for as take of more than 25% in a Dec 18 auction was on Monday, while those seeking less than that amount can still participate.

ThaiBev, controlled by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, declined to immediately comment.

Trading in the company was halted in Singapore yesterday pending an announcement.

Vietnam is seeking to raise at least US$4.8 billion in the country’s biggest stake sale.

Global brewers had been lining up to get a taste of Vietnam’s beer market.

An expanding Vietnamese middle class and youthful population helped drive a 300% surge in beer demand since 2002, according to Euromonitor.

But many companies have had to consider Sabeco’s valuation, as the stock has soared 48% this year.

The sale of a 25% stake in Sabeco would be worth US$2.3 billion based on the government’s initial price guidance of 320,000 dong (RM57.49) a share, about 9% above Monday’s closing price.

The government is offering 53.6% of the brewer, though foreign investors are limited to a 38.59% stake.

Combined with the 10.4% already held by investors from overseas, that would hit the foreign ownership cap imposed by Vietnam on some public companies.

Hui Choon Kit, CFO of Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N), a vehicle for Thai-Bev’s international expansion, said last month that Sabeco was too expensive at its current share price.

F&N has had experience working in Vietnam’s beer market from its earlier part ownership of Asia Pacific Breweries, which owns Tiger Beer.

It sold the stake to Heineken five years ago.

Last month, ThaiBev purchased a 49% stake in a Vietnamese food and beverage alliance.

The government is divesting stakes in Sabeco and Hanoi Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp, as a growing budget deficit forces the leadership to accelerate a plan to reduce holdings in state- owned firms. — Bloomberg