(Bloomberg) — Vietnam’s largest stake sale is drawing a tepid response as Thai Beverage emerges as the sole bidder willing to fork out more than $2bn for a stake in Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corporation (Sabeco).

A unit of ThaiBev is the only investor to register to buy at least a 25% stake in Vietnam’s largest beer company known as Sabeco, according to the Vietnam trade ministry’s website. The closing date for registration for a stake of more than 25% was on Monday, though other companies can still bid for less than that amount at the December 18 auction.

ThaiBev was among a half-dozen foreign companies, including Anheuser-Busch InBev and Asahi Group Holdings, that had expressed interest in bidding for the state-owned company.

Global brewers have been drawn to the heady growth prospects of the country’s beer market, driven by an expanding Vietnamese middle class and youthful population. Yet many potential bidders have been put off by Sabeco’s valuation, as the stock has soared 58% this year, as well as the minority stake offered.

"If you can’t take control, it makes it very challenging to justify the price," said Marc Djandji, head of institutional sales at Viet Dragon Securities in Ho Chi Minh City. "If you could take control, you could change the distribution, reduce costs and within a couple of years that 40 times earnings could go to 20 times earnings and that makes sense for a brewer in Asia. If you can’t do that, you are just overpaying."

ThaiBev, controlled by billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, declined to comment. Trading in the company was halted in Singapore on Tuesday pending an announcement.

Sabeco shares surged as much as 7%, the daily limit, in trading on Tuesday in Vietnam. Hanoi Beer Alcohol & Beverage, which is expected to hold a share sale early next year, also jumped 7%.

Vietnam is seeking to raise more than $4bn in the stake sale. The government is offering 53.6% of the brewer, though foreign investors are limited to a 38.59% stake. Combined with the 10.4% already held by investors from overseas, that would hit the foreign ownership cap imposed by Vietnam on some public companies.

The sale of a 25% stake in Sabeco would be worth $2.3bn based on the government’s initial price guidance of 320,000 dong ($14.09) a share, about 9% above Monday’s closing price. That is higher than the 6% premium paid for a stake in Vietnam Dairy Products that auctioned in December last year. The auction of Vietnam’s top dairy company was a flop, drawing only two bidders while not all the shares offered were sold.

Shares of Sabeco trade at about 40 times blended forward 12-month earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Asahi Group trades at about 19 times, compared with 20 times for Carlsberg and Heineken. Vinamilk trades at 25 times earnings.

High price

San Miguel Corporation was one of the parties interested in Sabeco, but president and leading shareholder Ramon Ang said on Tuesday that the Philippines’s largest company was not bidding because the price was too high.

Asahi president Akiyoshi Koji expressed similar concerns about the stock in September. Even Hui Choon Kit, chief financial officer of Fraser and Neave, a vehicle for Thai Beverage’s international expansion, said last month that Sabeco was too expensive.

Heineken owns 5% of Sabeco, and the company declined to comment on its plans for the stake. Heineken, which also operates its own brewery in the country, accounted for 23% of Vietnam’s beer sales by volume last year, according to Euromonitor International.

Sapporo Holdings has no plans to bid for a stake in Sabeco, said Mikio Masawaki, Sapporo Vietnam’s general director.

While ThaiBev may be paying a steep price, the strategic partnership that develops could make the high cost worth it, according to Nicholas Teo, a trading strategist at KGI Securities based in Singapore.

"It’s about getting a bigger foot in the door and the continuing effort to build a bigger footprint into the large consumer base markets of Indochina," he said. "This stake and the possible synergies that may be derived from it is key."

Fraser and Neave has had experience working in Vietnam’s beer market from its earlier part ownership of Asia Pacific Breweries, which owns Tiger Beer. It sold the stake to Heineken five years ago.

Last month, Thai Beverage purchased a 49% stake in a Vietnamese food and beverage company, Vietnam F&B Alliance Investment Joint Stock. The company, which was incorporated on September 27 for management consultancy and investment holding activities, owns Vietnam Beverage, which is the unit that registered for the Sabeco auction, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment.