The government of Vietnam has kicked off a process to find potential investors for a large stake in the country’s biggest beer company, as it looks to strike a multibillion-dollar deal in the coming weeks.

On Friday, Vietnamese government officials were in Singapore meeting investors to drum up interest in state-owned Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp., or Sabeco. The brewer is publicly listed in Vietnam and has a market capitalization of around $8.7 billion.

The government currently owns close to 90% of Sabeco. Depending on the level of buyer interest, Vietnam could sell more than 50% of the decades-old company and cease to be its majority owner.

The exact amount of shares it will sell will be decided after roadshows in Singapore, London and Ho Chi Minh City in the next few days, said a senior government official. He said the plan is for Vietnam to unload a significant portion of its ownership before year-end.

Sabeco is subject to a foreign-ownership limit of 49%, which means that a rule change may be required for any single foreign buyer to snap up the entire stake the government is looking to sell.

If a deal for a majority stake is struck, it would be largest sale of a Vietnamese state-run firm and could add weight to the communist government’s plans to open up its economy to foreign investment by relaxing ownership limits.

While that process is under way, the government has often been slow to follow through with those promises or been weak in execution, some foreign investors say. The government has in previous years talked about a potential sale of its majority stake in Sabeco, and only recently began acting on those plans.

Vietnam is one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, with a population of more than 90 million, and is seen as a promising frontier market, with sales booming in sectors from banking to beverages. Consumer spending is rising, which is attracting more foreign investors, especially those in Japan and Europe who are seeking opportunities outside their own saturated markets.

The country also has a young population and a booming export sector that is taking business from China and countries where costs and wages are higher.

Vietnam’s economy is expected to grow more than 6% this year and its stock market is one of the best performers in Asia, with the Ho Chi Minh Stock Index up around 40% so far this year.

Sabeco’s shares started trading about a year ago with a very small public float, and have more than doubled in value. The company is one of the biggest listed firms in Vietnam. It sells beer brands including 333 and Saigon Beer, and has about a 40% share of Vietnam’s beer market.

The company’s sales and profit have been rising. Revenue topped $1.3 billion in 2016 and Sabeco posted net income of $197 million that year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Foreign interest for the government’s stake in the beer company has been strong. People familiar with the process had said earlier that companies like Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co. and Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. and Thailand’s Thai Beverage PCL and Singha Group are among the companies that have shown interest in buying a stake in Sabeco.

On Friday, representatives of Japan’s Asahi Group were among the investors who met with Vietnam government officials in Singapore, according to people familiar with the process.

By P.R. Venkat & Jake Maxwell Watts - The Wall Street Journal - November 23, 2017