Domestic investors have been caught off guard by recent moves by foreign strategic investors to buy stakes in Vietnamese enterprises at above-market prices.

Last week, Singapore-based Streetcar Investment Holdings, a subsidiary of leading global spirits maker Diageo, offered to buy another million shares in Hanoi Liquor Joint Stock Co (Halico) at a price of 213,600 VND (10.40 USD) per share.

Since Halico shares are traded on the over-the-counter (OTC) market at around 100,000 VND (4.85 USD) a share, the sky-high price offered by Diageo made many market insiders wonder whether this was not merely a purely financial investment but preparation for a furture takeover.

Diageo had purchased about 5 million shares of Halico from VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund Ltd at a similar price back in January, representing a 23.6-per-cent stake in the company. With the new deal, Diageo would raise its holdings in Halico to 30 percent, enabling them to participate in Halico's board of directors and influence company management.

A director of a Hanoi-based securities company who requested anonymity said it was too soon to confirm a takeover and that, moreover, it was no easy matter to take over a large State-owned company like Halico.

However, since it cost foreign firms a lot of time and money to establish distribution networks in Vietnam , a partnership with Halico, a longstanding local company with a great market share, was a solid strategy in itself for penetrating the Vietnamese market, he said.

"The deal is expected to benefit both companies," he added, noting Halico management also believed Diageo could help take the company to greater heights.

Besides the Halico deal, Oman Investment Fund paid 42.4 million USD in April to buy a 12.6-per-cent stake in PetroVietnam Insurance (PVI), equivalent to over 40,000 VND (2 USD) a share – double the price of PVI shares on the stock market./.