(Adds details, background, and comment from Carlsberg)
By Nguyen Mi
HANOI, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Danish brewer Carlsberg is keen on increasing its stake in Habeco, one of Vietnam’s biggest brewers, to at least 51 percent, a local news website reported, citing a Habeco executive.
Vietnam has one of the world’s most attractive beer markets and the biggest in Southeast Asia, buoyed by a young population that consumed nearly 4 billion litres last year. The government wants to fully divest its majority stake in Habeco as also in rival Sabeco.
Carlsberg, which already owns around 17 percent in Habeco, has been discussing its priority purchase rights with the Vietnamese government, which has delayed the Habeco sale.
Sabeco, in which the government owns a 90 percent stake, has also seen interest from foreign players such as Dutch brewer Heineken and Japan’s Kirin.
Vietnam’s Steering Committee for Enterprise Innovation and Development, which oversees the country’s privatisation drive, said last month it aimed to “completely resolve problems in strategic cooperation” with Carlsberg, and inform the prime minister about the results by Nov. 15.
Habeco is still in talks with the Danish company on the stake sale, state-controlled An Ninh Thu Do newspaper quoted Habeco’s deputy chief Vuong Toan as saying.
The media report also quoted Toan as saying that foreign companies are not allowed to own more than 49 percent of Habeco due to foreign ownership limits.
Carlsberg said on Friday it would not comment on “rumours”.
Last month, the company said it held “several constructive meetings with the Vietnamese government to discuss the privatisation process of Habeco”.
“We now see good progress in these meetings, and will continue these discussions with the Vietnamese government for the next steps,” Carlsberg Chief Executive Cees ’t Hart said at a conference call after its second-quarter earnings on Aug. 16. (Reporting by Mi Nguyen; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)