* Deadline gives signals of possible stake sale this year
* Government wants to sell 53.59 percent stake in Sabeco in 2017
* Kirin, ABInBev among potential investors (Adds comment, details, background)
By Mai Nguyen
HANOI, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Vietnam’s trade ministry, which controls Sabeco, has just over a week to submit a divestment plan for the country’s biggest brewer, a government report showed on Thursday.
The Oct. 20 deadline set by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is a clear signal that the long-awaited state divestment in Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp (Sabeco) might happen this year after repeated delays.
Many foreign brewers have been looking at a possible investment in the maker of the Bia Saigon and 333 brews, since it was earmarked for privatisation. But long-stated plans for the government, which still owns about 90 percent, to sell a majority stake have met with repeated delays.
The plan to sell a stake in Sabeco by the trade ministry will be reviewed by Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue, who oversees economic and financial activities, before it is sent for a higher level of approval within the government.
After the government’s approval, the trade ministry will prepare a prospectus for the sale, said Dang Quyet Tien, head of the finance ministry’s corporate finance department.
“The prime minister has agreed to sell 53.59 percent this year, but whether it can be sold this year, we don’t know yet ... Several foreign beer firms including Kirin and Anheuser-Busch InBev said they have been in touch and are waiting,” Tien told reporters earlier this week.
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.
Vietnam’s trade ministry, which represents the government’s shares in Sabeco, has been working with advisers on various options for the stake sale. The government wants to fully divest from Sabeco and smaller brewer Habeco.
The government has been striving to trim its stakes in 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 - including Heineken that already owns a 5 percent share - or other investors to step in.
The stock closed at 266,000 dong ($11.71) on Thursday, 140 percent above its December listing price of 110,000 dong. ($1 = 22,719 dong) (Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Himani Sarkar)