Samsung cleans up its cross-shareholding web

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Samsung cleans up its cross-shareholding web

Samsung Group affiliates sold off shares in each other’s companies on Friday in a major step toward revamping the conglomerate’s governance structure and removing its byzantine web of cross-shareholding.

Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance put 2.61 million shares, or 1.37 percent, of Samsung C&T for sale at a suggested price of 328.5 billion won ($294.3 million) through a block deal. Samsung Electro-Mechanics had 5 million shares in the company, equivalent to 2.61 percent, which it aimed to sell at 642.5 billion won.

The main buyers were institutional investors, industry sources said. They purchased each Samsung C&T share for 122,000 won, 5 percent down from the previous day’s closing price. This will leave Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance with 319.3 billion won and Samsung Electro-Mechanics with 610 billion won.

The sell-offs put an end to the conglomerate’s long history of cross-shareholding in which companies in a group own shares in other companies. In Korea, the tactic is often used by a conglomerate’s owner family to tighten its ownership across affiliates without directly owning shares in each.

Samsung, the country’s largest conglomerate, originally had six affiliates forming a complicated spoke-and-axle structure with Samsung C&T at the center. The other five companies were Samsung Electronics, Samsung SDI, Samsung Life Insurance, Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance and Samsung Electro-Mechanics.

Its first step toward breaking the structure came in April, when Samsung SDI sold off 4.04 million shares worth 559.9 billion won in Samsung C&T. This effectively terminated three out of seven cross-shareholding arrangements that existed across affiliates. Friday’s sell-off cut off the remaining four.

Industry analysts expected Samsung C&T to buy back the shares sold by the two affiliates, but all of them were sold to outside investors through block deals, a form of transaction in which two parties agree on a price outside the stock market. Samsung SDI also sold its shares to institutional investors in a block deal in April.

The current administration under President Moon Jae-in has sent multiple warnings to Samsung to resolve its cross-shareholding structure. It was one of Moon’s pledges when he ran for office last year.

As for Samsung’s Lee family, the effect on their ownership inside the group is minimal. Its members, including the ailing patriarch Lee Kun-hee and his son Lee Jae-yong currently own 33 percent of Samsung C&T, the group’s de facto holding company. Friday’s sell-off of 3.98 percent in the affiliate won’t make much difference.

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