Top Lee adviser pushes for bigger state fund role

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Top Lee adviser pushes for bigger state fund role


Kwak Seung-jun

Kwak Seung-jun, chairman of the Presidential Council for Future and Vision, set off a political firestorm yesterday when he said that the National Pension Service and other public funds should use their equity stakes in major business groups to carry out corporate reforms.

Business groups have described such proposals as “pension fund socialism,” while the Blue House yesterday distanced itself from Kwak’s remarks.

But Jun Kwang-woo, NPS chairman and chief executive, appeared to support Kwak’s stance when he recently told the Korea JoongAng Daily and the JoongAng Ilbo that he believed that the $299 billion state pension fund should play in promoting better corporate transparency.

During a policy forum held at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul, Kwak said, “Public funds like the NPS should exercise their rights as shareholders as a means to reinforce the market functions and curb the power of the large conglomerates.”

“An effective way to encourage shared growth [between small and big business] and prevent the excessive expansion of large conglomerates is the ability of the public funds to exercise their shareholder rights rather than the government’s direct intervention,” he explained.

The NPS is the world’s fourth largest pension fund and it expects its assets could grow to 2,500 trillion won by 2043.

It hold stakes of more than 5 percent in 139 large companies after investing 55 trillion won, or 17 percent of its assets portfolio, in the stock market as of the end of last year.

The NPS has become the largest shareholder in KB Financial Group and Hana Financial Group. Jun said that there is a need to improve the corporate management structures at the nation’s leading banking groups, citing the recent management power struggle at Shinhan Financial Group.

However, Jun said he was cautious about the NPS directly intervening in corporate management decisions.

At the forum, Kwak criticized the performance of the large conglomerates. He said that “in the case of Samsung Electronics, for example, it seemed embarrassed over the iPhone shock because it had been complacent about the existing mobile phone market even though the coming of the smartphone era had been predicted for several years.”

He pointed out that corporate groups Posco and KT have a diversified ownership structure that it makes it difficult to supervise management.

The Blue House said it had not discussed the issue with Kwak and there was no decision on whether to implement his recommendation.

“What Kwak said reflects his academic background,” said Kim Hee-jung, the presidential spokeswoman. “It is not a policy that had been coordinated with the Blue House.”

She added that Kwak’s remarks may reflect “the presidential council’s position. There is a difference between a government ministry and a presidential council. Ministries announce policies that have already been decided, but advisory councils present various opinions and initiate discussions.”

Nonetheless, Kwak’s remarks have attracted attention since he is a top adviser to President Lee. The Presidential Council for Future and Vision is meant to provide ideas for the future direction of Korea’s development.

Business groups, including the Federation of Korean Industries, issued statements attacking Kwak’s statement.

The FKI said any attempt to intervene in corporate management for political purposes could “lead to a drop in corporate value.”

“The management structures of local conglomerates such as Samsung will never change unless they happen to go out of business,” said an official from the Financial Services Commission. He suggested there was a need for more ways to promote corporate reforms and transparency, including the use of shareholder rights that could be wielded by the NPS and other public funds.

By Jung Jae-yoon, Ser Myo-ja []

“국민연금 삼성전자 지분 이건희 회장보다 많은데 … ”

곽승준 미래기획위원장 “대기업 견제하기 위하여 연·기금 주주권 적극 행사”

곽승준 대통령 직속 미래기획위원회 위원장이 “국민연금을 비롯한 공적 연·기금의 주주권 행사를 적극적으로 검토해야 한다”고 주장했다.

곽 위원장은 26일 “ 대기업을 견제하는 효과적인 수단으로는 자본주의 원칙에 입각한 공적 연·기금의 주주권 행사가 가장 적절하다”고 말했다. 그는 “대기업·중소기업의 동반성장이나 대기업의 문어발식 확장 등의 문제에 대해서도 정부의 직접 개입보다는 공적 연·기금이 보유한 주주권 행사를 통해 접근하는 것이 시장 친화적인 방법”이라고 주장했다.

곽 위원장은 신한금융·삼성전자·포스코·KT를 직접 거론하며 국민연금 역할론을 제기했다. 그는 “신한금융의 경영권 분쟁에서 2대 주주인 국민연금(6.08%)이 일본계 주주 등과 달리 전혀 목소리를 내지 못했던 것은 불합리한 사례”라고 했다. 삼성전자에 대해선 그는 “국민연금이 삼성전자의 2대 주주(5.0%)로서 보유지분이 이건희 회장(3.38%)보다 많은데 경영진에 대한 견제와 경영 투명성을 높이려는 노력을 제대로 했는지 매우 의문시된다”고 말했다. 포스코와 KT 등 오너십이 부족한 대기업은 방만한 사업 확장 등으로 주주 가치가 침해되 지 않도록 경영진에 대한 견제를 강화해야 한다고 했다.

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