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As activist fund Elliott circles, Hyundai has a 'shareholder friendly' plan

Hyundai Motor shares rose 1.3%, the most in a week, to close at 152,000 won in Seoul trading, while the benchmark Kospi index fell about 0.1%

Sohee Kim & Scott Deveau | Bloomberg 

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An architect of Hyundai Motor Group’s revamp effort said the carmaking conglomerate is poised to unveil changes to enhance shareholder value amid pressure from investors including

“I know the shareholder-friendly policies will be revealed one-by-one as the company’s plans proceed,” said Jeong Young-chae, chief executive officer of NH Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul, which is advising Hyundai on its plans. He declined to give a timeframe.

The auto and parts group met with Elliott and other stock owners in London this week and discussions included the New York-based hedge fund’s concerns about overlapping shareholdings among in the group, according to people familiar with the matter. Hyundai is expected to take the discussions into consideration in its restructuring plan, said the people who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

Hyundai Motor shares rose 1.3 per cent, the most in a week, to close at 152,000 won in Seoul trading, while the benchmark Kospi index fell about 0.1 per cent.

Elliott, the sometimes activist fund run by billionaire Paul Singer, said last week it had acquired a more than $1 billion stake in and wanted to see a clearer picture of plans to improve its operations. Elliott applauded the company’s moves last month to simplify its ownership structure, calling it just the “first step.” Elliott has said its holdings are in Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp. and Hyundai Mobis Co.

The investment also comes as the country’s President has said he’ll clampdown on family-run conglomerates that flout corporate governance standards. Moon has appointed a Fair Trade Commission head, Kim Sang-jo, whose nickname is “chaebol sniper” for his decades as a shareholder activist.

Kim has cited Hyundai among the chaebol that should untangle cross-shareholdings that obfuscate their ownership structures. His commission welcomed the initial restructure Hyundai announced March 28.

“The proposed changes will benefit every stakeholder including employees, customers and shareholders,” said in an email, without providing details of the changes. Representatives for Elliott declined to comment.

Hyundai Motor made a similar statement when announcing restructuring steps March 28.

“That restructuring plan was organized by the rules, not by the interests of the largest shareholders,” Jeong said in a phone interview.

Jeong suggested that Hyundai Motor isn’t likely to create a holding company structure as a way to clear out cross shareholdings because it is a vertically integrated manufacturer that continues to have a lot of transactions among group He said he has no direct knowledge of what Elliott has demanded so far.

A previous restructuring step that put the group’s Hyundai Mobis in control of other units was designed to eliminate “circular” shareholdings and resolve internal trading among affiliates, Jeong said.

“The current structure was designed not to disrupt the vertically integrated business and to cut ties of circular shareholdings,” Jeong said.

Elliott’s investment in the group marks a return to South Korea three years after it began pushing for reforms at the nation’s biggest conglomerate, Samsung Group, narrowly losing in a proxy fight. That effort did yield some results, including playing a key role in events that led to the impeachment of the country’s president and the jailing of Samsung’s de-facto leader.

First Published: Thu, April 12 2018. 18:58 IST
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