Weak won bane to some firms, a boon to others

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Weak won bane to some firms, a boon to others


With renewed turmoil in the global economy over the growing possibility of a Greek default, the Korean business world is preparing for the repercussions, and in particular a weakening won. Although the won’s value rose a bit yesterday to 1,190.50 won against the greenback, up 2.5 won, a weakened won is a major concern for many Korean industries.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises are hit hard by the depreciation of the won because they import raw materials before reprocessing and supplying them to large companies. Now they will have to deal with higher costs of imports.

“Most small and midsize companies are not very prepared for sudden changes in exchange rates,” an official at the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business said. “They are very vulnerable to fluctuations.”

Conversely, Korea’s exports are suffering from other ripples of the global economic turmoil, according to the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade.

Exports to the European Union have declined every month since July - despite the EU-Korea free trade agreement going into effect that month - and growth in exports to the United States is slowing.

However, Korea’s main export markets are emerging economies like China and Southeast Asia, and exports to them remain strong, the institute said.

“Information technology exports are sensitive to economic conditions and they are going to be the hardest hit,” said Kang Doo-yong, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade. “Developed countries account for a small portion of component exports, including semiconductors and flat-screen displays, but since emerging-market countries assemble these components and export finished goods to developed countries, the exports of those items will be most likely affected.”


Effect of the depreciation

Currently, the biggest concern of local businesses is the plunging value of the currency, and everyone’s trying to divine whether they will suffer or benefit.

The airline industry is very sensitive to exchange rates because airlines purchase airplanes and fuel in dollars and carry a large amount of foreign currency debt from those purchases. If the won depreciates, they could incur exchange losses.

According to Korean Air, if the currency weakens against the dollar by 10 won, the company will incur a 64 billion won ($53.8 million) exchange loss over a year. Asiana’s loss in the same situation would be 7.6 billion won.

“Our initial estimate of this year’s average exchange rate would be 1,100 won,” said Suh Ki-won, a spokesman for Asiana.

“The company tries to hedge against the won’s deprecation by purchasing 30 percent of its fuel for the year in advance.”

Korean Air’s business plan for this year was based on an assumption of an average exchange rate of 1,150 won per dollar, and although the dollar rose more than it expected, it’s not a big problem yet.

The depreciation of the local currency is also a problem for oil refineries. Since oil is traded in dollars, the won’s decline means higher purchasing costs for the companies. Oil refineries would normally pass on the increased cost of oil imports to customers, but the government keeps pressuring them to maintain low prices to help it fight inflation.

However, oil companies are shielded by the won depreciation because of their exports.

“Most local refineries export over 60 percent of their production and that automatically hedges against the weakening of the won,” said Shin Jung-guk, a spokesman at S-Oil. “But the higher cost of oil imports are expected to be passed on to domestic gasoline prices.”

SK Energy said it is carefully watching the exchange rate and is shielding itself with hedging maneuvers.

The weaker won is a nightmare for the milling and sugar industries as it increases the prices of its most important components such as raw sugar and wheat, which are imported.

CJ Cheiljedang, Korea’s biggest food maker, said if the won falls against the greenback by 10 won, its sugar business suffers yearly loss of 3 billion won. The company says it has lost 10 billion won this year because of the weaker won.

Local food makers are trying to minimize losses by closely monitoring changes in market conditions and purchasing agricultural goods whenever the situation stabilizes a bit.

“Raising the prices of products is a fundamental solution but we aren’t looking into that option yet,” said a CJ Cheiljedang official. “There’s nothing much we can do with changes in exchange rates, so we’re patiently watching the latest development.”

The government has also discouraged food makers from raising prices, especially sugar and wheat, because they are fundamental products used in different sectors such as bakery chains and restaurants.

Some like it weak

The won’s weakening is not bad for Korea’s technology sector as it is highly dependent on exports of products like semiconductors, flat-screen displays, mobile phones and PCs.

In the case of Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, the country’s top two technology firms, they have set their won-dollar exchange rates at 1,080 won and 1,100 won, respectively, since the beginning of this year.

The exchange rate is key to the firms’ management plans.

Industry analysts expected that if the local currency weakens by 100 won against the dollar, it would result in about 2 trillion won in extra profits for Samsung Electronics. In the short term, the IT giants have something to smile about.

But it’s a different story for the parts and components business. Producers of semiconductors and liquid crystal display panels, with contracts that are mostly written in greenbacks, will see profits erode.

“These days, the impact from exchange rates is complex,” a Samsung official said. “There are both pluses and minuses. We become competitive in terms of exporting finished products, but the costs of importing parts, equipment and raw materials can get burdensome.”

“The technology sector can benefit to some extent in exports when the exchange rate goes up but there are disadvantages in imports - so it offsets [the profits],” an LG Electronics spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency. “In particular, there are more challenges in the TV and handset businesses, compared to the home appliances business.”

Analysts also say most major companies in Korea have already set up exchange rate hedging strategies over the years so the impact would be limited.

Meanwhile, department stores including Lotte and Shinsegae are hailing the won’s depreciation.

Industry sources said department stores’ monthly sales this month are likely to go up compared to the previous month due to a large number of Chinese tourists who visited Korea during a week-long Chinese national holiday that started Oct. 1.

The won against the Chinese yuan broke the 185 won mark recently from 160 won against 1 yuan in July, and this has encouraged Chinese tourists to buy more on their visit to Korea. Yesterday, the won closed at 186.73 against the yuan.

By Limb Jae-un, Kim Hyung-eun [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

‘그리스 디폴트’ … 통신·보험 유리, 은행·조선 불리

증권사 업종별 영향 보고서 분석

시장이 그리스의 디폴트(채무불이행)를 기정사실화하고 있다. 곽병렬 유진투자증권 연구원은 “그리스 디폴트는 더 이상 블랙스완(Black Swan·‘검은 백조’란 뜻으로 일어날 것 같지 않은 일)의 영역이 아니라 현실화가 농후한 시나리오”라고 말했다.

 이미 글로벌 증시는 몸살을 앓고 있고 외풍에 취약한 국내 시장은 더 흔들리고 있다. 5일 코스피 시장은 전날보다 39.67포인트(2.33%) 내린 1666.52에 장을 마쳤다. 63.46포인트(3.59%) 떨어진 전날보다 낙폭은 줄였지만 하락세는 이어졌다.
그리스 디폴트는 국내 금융시장의 트리플 약세를 가져올 전망이다. 트리플 약세란 원화가치·채권가격·주가가 동시에 하락하는 것이다. 소재용 하나대투증권 거시전략팀장은 “그리스 디폴트가 현실화되면 외국인투자자는 절대 안전자산에만 돈을 넣게 될 것”이라며 “한국 시장에서 외국인투자자가 빠져나가면서 원화가치·채권값·주가가 동시 하락하는 트리플 약세 현상이 불가피할 것”이라고 말했다.

 트리플 약세를 전제로 놓고 보면 업종별 명암이나 손익을 어느 정도 따져볼 수 있다. 지중해로부터 날아드는 유탄에 가장 심한 타격을 받을 업종으로는 은행주가 꼽힌다. 김병연 우리투자증권 연구위원은 “그리스가 디폴트로 모든 업종이 나쁜 영향을 받겠지만 그중에서도 은행주가 가장 불리하다”며 “프랑스 은행 등이 파산 위기에 놓이면 그곳에서 자금을 들여오는 국내 은행이 영향을 받게 되고, 튼튼한 은행일지라도 원화가치 변동성이 커지면 자금 조달에 문제가 생길 수 있다”고 말했다.

 조선업도 그리스 문제로 인해 업황이 흐려질 종목으로 간주된다. 장문수 유진투자증권 애널리스트는 “유럽 의존도가 높은 조선업의 특성상 부정적 영향은 불가피하다”며 “2008년 금융위기 당시 최대 발주 지역이었던 유럽으로부터의 신규 발주가 2009년까지 중단된 선례가 있다”고 말했다. 지난해 유럽 지역으로의 국내 선박 수출 비중은 25.7%에 달했다. 한국에서 만든 배를 이 지역에서 가장 많이 사들였다. 이 밖에 완제품 가격 하락과 판매량 부진에 동시 노출되는 화학·정유·철강 업종도 부정적 영향을 받을 가능성이 크다.

 반면 통신업은 그리스 디폴트에 반사 이익을 얻을 가능성도 크다. 김동준 유진투자증권 애널리스트는 “통신 서비스는 필수소비재이면서 전형적 내수주라서 그리스 디폴트와 같은 외부 충격이 영업 실적에 미치는 영향이 거의 없다”며 “배당실적이 좋기 때문에 시장 불안기에 오히려 투자 대안으로 급부상할 가능성이 크다”고 분석했다. 외부 충격으로 다른 업종이 흔들릴 때 안전한 투자 종목으로 부각될 수 있다는 얘기다. 보험업은 은행·증권업과 같은 금융업종으로 분류되지만 그리스 디폴트로 인해 받는 영향은 좀 다르다. 김지현 하이투자증권 선임연구원은 “보험회사가 채권을 많이 가지고 있어 (그리스 디폴트로) 금리가 올라가면 자기자본이익률(ROE)이 높아질 수 있다”며 “수혜까지는 아니어도 방어주로서 상대적으로 좋은 결과를 얻을 수 있다”고 말했다.

 정보기술(IT)·자동차·기계 업종 등 수출주는 그리스 디폴트가 실제로 나타날 경우 글로벌 수요 감소로 인한 부정적 효과와 원화가치 하락 등 가격경쟁력 강화로 인한 긍정적 효과가 동시에 나타날 것이란 게 증권업계의 분석이다. 또 음식료·유통업 등도 내수주로서의 장점이 소비심리 악화의 여파로 상쇄될 것이란 전망이 많다.

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