Woori Bank chief heads to U.S. in search of investors

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Woori Bank chief heads to U.S. in search of investors

Woori Bank CEO Lee Kwang-goo is traveling to the United States later this month in his ongoing bid to privatize the bank, as the institution’s first-quarter earnings took a surprise upswing.

Lee plans to hold a series of investor events in four U.S. cities during the third week of May. He is planning to meet more than 10 institutional investors in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

In February, Lee traveled to Singapore, London, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Amsterdam to find investors to acquire the bank.

This followed the bank’s sell-off discussions with Abu Dhabi Investment Company and two other Saudi funds which collapsed in January due to low crude prices.

After four unsuccessful attempts to privatize the bank in recent years, the bank’s recent business performance and stock prices are favorable, drawing attention from foreign investors.

Woori’s stock price rose up to 10,800 won ($9.20) in late April, which was a five-month high, while foreign investors showed strong interest.

The stock price, which bottomed at 8,460 won on Feb. 12, has climbed up to post 10,350 won on Wednesday. The stock price’s revamp followed foreign institutional investors’ purchase of Woori shares since early February.

Foreigners account for 24.7 percent of the total shares as of Wednesday, up from less than 20.4 percent at the beginning of the year, according to Korea Exchange data. Foreigners also recorded a net buying spree for five consecutive days as of Wednesday, according to NH Investment & Securities.

The floated stock price came along with the bank’s earnings surprise in the first quarter, and Lee is known to be planning to emphasize the Q1 performance to pitch the sell-off.

The bank recorded a net profit of 443 billion won in the first three months this year, up 52.4 percent compared to the same period last year, thanks to the industry’s top-level net interest margin, asset sell-offs and debt repayment from some shipbuilders.

The state-run financial company owns 51.06 percent of total Woori shares.

The Korea Deposit Insurance Corporation has pushed the bank to sell its stocks to recover the state money worth about 12 trillion won that it injected since 1997, after the Asian financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund’s loan package and the restructuring of the financial industry.

BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]
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