November 15, 2017 / 5:28 AM / in a month

UPDATE 1-Vietnam govt aims to complete Sabeco stake sale in December

* Government approved divestment plan in November

* Stake sale expected to be worth trillions of dong (Adds details from statement, shares, background)

By Mai Nguyen

HANOI, Nov 15 (Reuters) - The Vietnamese government aims to complete a stake sale in the country’s biggest brewer Sabeco in December, the trade ministry said, in the clearest signal yet that the long-awaited state divestment might happen this year after repeated delays.

The government, which owns 89 percent in Sabeco, formally known as Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp, approved a divestment plan on Nov. 9, the trade ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Sabeco, the country’s second-biggest listed firm by market value, is a key plank of the government’s broader privatisation effort, which includes dairy firm Vinamilk, Vietnam Airlines and rival brewer Habeco.

While the trade ministry did not give details on how much stake in Sabeco would be sold, it said the sale was expected to be worth trillions of dong and would be conducted as a public auction, similar to the Vinamilk stake sale process.

The starting price, the size of the sale and how much foreigners are allowed to buy will be announced later, it added.

Vietnam has one of the world’s most attractive beer markets and the biggest in Southeast Asia, thanks to a young population that consumed nearly 4 billion litres in 2016. To tap into this, many foreign brewers from Kirin to Heineken have been looking to invest in Sabeco, the maker of the Bia Saigon and 333 brews, since it was earmarked for privatisation.

The government wants to fully divest from Sabeco and smaller brewer Habeco and has been striving to trim stakes in other state-owned enterprises, many of which have low profitability, but the progress has been slow given the small sizes offered, sizeable state control and concerns about vested interests.

A spike in Sabeco’s share price due to high demand and a small float has also complicated matters, making it difficult for industry buyers or other investors to step in.

The stock closed at 274,200 dong on Tuesday, nearly 150 percent above its December listing price of 110,000 dong.

Sabeco expects its third-quarter net profit to drop 9.5 percent from a year ago. Its profits over January-September rose an estimated 1.64 percent to 3.7 trillion dong ($163 million). ($1 = 22,713.0000 dong) (Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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