[THE INVESTOR] South Korean companies sought fewer merger and acquisitions amid increased economic uncertainty last year, but foreign firms were aggressive in acquiring local IT and entertainment firms, the nation’s antitrust watchdog said March 1.
The Fair Trade Commission said it received reports of 646 M&A deals worth 593.6 trillion won (US$521.3 billion) last year. The number of deals went down by 23 compared to the previous year but the deal value was up by 55 percent mainly due to the M&As of Korean firms by foreign companies.
Under South Korean antitrust law, all companies with more than 200 billion won in assets or revenue should report their plans of a merger with a firm whose total assets or revenue exceeds 20 billion won to the FTC, if their merger plans have any impact on the Korean market.
Almost all industries except for finance saw fewer M&As among South Korean firms and the manufacturing sector was hit hardest, the FTC said.
Conglomerates with more than 5 trillion won in assets also held back from expanding their businesses.
While there were five high-profile deals worth more than 1 trillion won in 2015, such as Cheil Industries’ acquisition of Samsung C&T as well as SK C&C’s takeover of SK and Hyundai Steel’s Hyundai Hysco, there were only two such deals in 2016 -- Lotte Chemical’s 2.8 trillion won deal to acquire SDI Chemical and Nonghyup Economic Holding’s 1.8 trillion won acquisition of National Agricultural Cooperative Federation’s business.
In contrast, the number of M&A deals initiated by foreign companies rose 16 percent on-year to 156 in 2016, with the deal value surging by 74 percent to 567.3 trillion won mainly led by big deals.
“Compared to the increase in the deal number, the growth of the deal value was much bigger. This signals that foreign firms are seeking to expand their roles through big M&A deals,” the FTC said.
There were 11 M&A deals between foreign firms that exceeded 10 trillion won in deal value last year and four deals in the semiconductor sector took up the largest portion, it said. The four included deals between Softbank and ARM, Western Digital and Sandisk, and LAM Research and KLA Tencor.
Among the M&As of Korean firms by foreign firms, 25 percent came from the IT and entertainment sector and most of the acquirers were Chinese, the FTC said.
Notable deals last year include China Jiuhao Health Industry’s acquisition of shares in Korea’s HB Entertainment and Fungame’s buying of Korea’s game developer Webzen.
By Kim Yoon-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)