Thai Tycoon Makes Frothy Offer for Stake in Vietnam's Largest Beer Maker

By P.R. VenkatFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

One of Thailand's richest tycoons is looking to buy a quarter of Vietnam's largest beer maker in a deal worth at least $2.25 billion, making his company the sole bidder wanting to buy a substantial stake.

If successful, it would be one of the largest foreign investments in the Asian frontier market and could boost foreign investor confidence in the communist government's reforms planned for its state-owned enterprises.

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Vietnam Beverage Co., a unit of Singapore-listed Thai Beverage PCL, has submitted a bid to acquire at least a 25% stake in state-owned Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp., known as Sabeco, according to a statement from Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade on Tuesday.

In its statement, the ministry said that, as of Monday, Vietnam Beverage was the "one investor registered" to buy a large volume for Sabeco's share.

Thai Bev is owned by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. The tycoon has been on an acquisition spree in recent years, buying stakes in companies from hypermarkets to milk producers.

ThaiBev owns the Chang Beer and Oishi green tea brands in Thailand and has been looking to expand its business in Southeast Asia. In October, Mr. Charoen paid close to $700 million to buy a majority stake in Myanmar Distillery Company Group, the country's largest spirits maker. Mr. Charoen's Fraser & Neave Ltd. has also been aggressively bulking up its stake in Vietnam's largest milk producer Vinamilk, or Vietnam Dairy Products JSC, since last year, now owning a stake of close to 20%.

The Vietnamese government, which owns about 90% of Sabeco, has been looking to divest itself of most of its stake in the beer maker for more than three years. But it was only last month that the government started an auction process, offering to sell a 53.6% stake. It had set a base price of 320,000 Vietnamese dong ($14.06) per share.

Sabeco has a market capitalization of about $9 billion, making it one of the biggest listed firms in the country. It sells beer brands including 333 and Saigon Beer and has about a 40% share of the nation's beer market.

Many foreign companies, including Japan's Kirin Holdings Co. and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., have shown interest in buying a chunk of Sabeco, people familiar with the process had said earlier.

Kirin and Asahi declined to comment when asked if they had submitted a bid for Sabeco.

Vietnam is one of Asia's fastest-growing economies--it is expected to grow more than 6% this year--and has a population of more than 90 million. Its stock market is one of the best performers in Asia; the Ho Chi Minh Stock Index is up about 38% so far this year.

Megumi Fujikawa in Tokyo contributed to this article.

Write to P.R. Venkat at venkat.pr@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 12, 2017 00:28 ET (05:28 GMT)