Carlsberg Balks at Vietnam Beer Price as Stake Sale Heats Up

By Publications Checkout
Carlsberg Balks at Vietnam Beer Price as Stake Sale Heats Up

Carlsberg, the Danish brewer that wants to buy a majority stake in Hanoi Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp, said a surge in the Vietnamese company's share price has been fuelled by speculative buying, setting the stage for heated negotiations in Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing beer market.

A near tripling of Habeco’s price since its October 28 listing on Vietnam’s regulated over-the-counter exchange doesn’t accurately reflect the underlying value of the business as it’s "mainly due to speculative buying on very thin volume," Tayfun Uner, chief executive officer of Carlsberg Vietnam, said in an interview in Hanoi.

Habeco shares closed as high as 144,700 dong ($6.40) this month after initially being listed at 39,000 dong, a price Uner described as fair. The government announced in August it wants to sell its 82 percent stake for $404 million, or about 48,000 dong a share, which according to Uner is a reasonable valuation.

Vietnam is in the midst of restructuring state ownership of Habeco in the north and top brewer Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp., known as Sabeco, in the country’s south. The potential divestment is drawing interest from the world’s largest brewers including  Heineken NV, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Asahi Group Holdings, who are keen on Vietnam’s young population and rising middle class in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

‘Fair Price’

"We want to support the Vietnamese government to make a success out of this, which means obviously to get a fair price and to ensure their success of the privatization," said Uner. Habeco’s selling price should also reflect that its market position has dropped to third from second since the brewer purchased stakes in 2008, he said.

Carlsberg has been in talks with the Ministry of Industry and Trade to purchase a 61.79 percent holding and plans to also bid for another 20 percent stake that the government will sell at an auction, Uner said. It currently owns 17.51 percent.

The remaining 0.7 percent - currently traded on the country’s Unlisted Public Company Market exchange - is owned by other minority shareholders. Those shares fell 2.1 percent to 105,000 dong on Thursday. Carlsberg shares fell 0.4 per cent in Copenhagen.

“It is very possible the government will take the market price as reference for the stake sale,” said Marc Djandji, head of institutional sales at Rong Viet Securities Corp. “Considering the small amount of shares available, if the government relies on the market price, it’s just an artificial price. So the concern of Carlsberg is understandable.”

Carlsberg, which has been  waiting since last year for government permission to boost its stake in Habeco, has a first right of refusal for the sale, Uner said. The Danish brewer plans to compete with other bidders for the 20 percent stake being sold at auction, and expects the government to sell it the larger holding at the winning auction price, he said.

Beer Guzzlers

If the government fails to sell the entire 20 percent stake during the auction process, Carlsberg would be willing to buy the 61.79 percent holding at a price per share equivalent to its 2008 initial stake purchase, Uner said.

“Carlsberg, with the expectation that the Vietnamese government will respect our first right of refusal, would want to keep and grow the Hanoi brand,” Uner said. “That does require, on top of the acquisition investment, a significant investment to keep and grow the brand.”

Vietnamese guzzlers are expected to consume more than 4.04 billion liters of beer this year, the most in Southeast Asia and up from 3.88 billion liters in 2015, according to Euromonitor International.

Both Habeco and Sabeco are planning to list shares on Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange before Dec. 12, according to Phan Chi Dung, head of the light industry division at the industry and trade ministry which oversees Habeco.

News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland