* Vietnam to kick off Sabeco auction on Dec 18
Says global brewers interested in participating
* Sale process has been complicated due to foreign ownership limit
* Sabeco's shares have tripled over the past year (Recasts, adds comments from news conference)
By Mai Nguyen
HO CHI MINH CITY, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Vietnam will kick off the sale of 54 percent of Sabeco, the country's biggest brewer and the maker of Bia Saigon and 333 beers, next month, in an ambitious deal the government hopes will raise at least $5 billion.
The long-awaited sale has already attracted interest from brewers seeking access to what is the second-most profitable market for Heineken NV, which holds 5 percent of Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corp (Sabeco).
But analysts said the tripling of Sabeco's share price to 340,000 dong ($14.96) from its December 2016 listing, and a foreign ownership limit of 49 percent could deter some global brewers from participating in the auction.
The sale could provide a blueprint for other privatizations which Hanoi is considering as part of broader economic reforms, including that of peer Habeco, in which Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S owns 17.3 percent.
The mininum price for Sabeco's sale was set at 320,000 dong a share, trade ministry official Truong Thanh Hoai told a news conference on Wednesday, days after the company held investor roadshows in Singapore and London.
"The big sale is to increase the attractiveness," Hoai said.
Foreigners already owned over 10 percent in Sabeco, and the total limit for such ownership was still capped at 49 percent, he said.
The government owns nearly 90 percent of Sabeco and analysts said the low float had inflated the market value.
"Through the two recent roadshows, we saw a very high level of interest. Most investors highly valued Sabeco's business performance and the potential of the beer market," Sabeco Chairman Vo Thanh Ha told reporters.
Vietnam is on track to become Asia's biggest per-capita beer market by 2021 and is shaping up as a battleground for global brewers thanks to a youthful population and beer-drinking culture.
However, Sabeco's valuations have soared, with its shares trading at a price-to-earnings multiple of 49 compared with 20 for Japan's Asahi Group Holdings, 17 for Thai Beverage PCL and 15 for Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings , Thomson Reuters data showed.
On Wednesday, the president of the Philippines' San Miguel Corp told Reuters the conglomerate was looking to bid for Sabeco.
Kirin was also interested and would make a decision once sale details were finalized, a spokesman said this week after the Singapore roadshow. ($1 = 22,720 dong) (Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in MANILA; Writing by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Stephen Coates)