Korea Development Bank (KDB) chairman, Lee Dong-gull said on 1 December that the time has come for the South Korean state-backed policy lender to liberate flagship carrier HMM, as the liner industry heads towards another year of record profits.
In an online press conference, Lee said, “It’s time to take our hands off HMM as the company has improved considerably in recent years, but this is to be discussed with the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and Korea Ocean Business Corporation (KOBC).”
HMM achieved a US$105 million net profit in 2020 and a record $1.95 billion net profit in Q3 21.
KDB and KOBC represent the government’s interest in HMM, having come on board in 2016 and 2017 to rescue the company from bankruptcy.
Lee noted that the combined stake of KDB and KOBC which now stands at around 44%, could exceed 70% as they still hold convertible bonds, which can be changed into HMM shares.
He spoke just weeks after Vice-Minister for Oceans and Fisheries Eom Ki-doo disclosed that by the end of 1Q 2022, the government hopes to find a buyer for the state’s interest in HMM.
In any case, given the possibility that KDB and KOBC could take their stake in HMM to over 70%, the disposal of the state’s interest in the carrier should be done in phases, opined Lee.
Lee added, “There is nothing that is currently going on with regard to the sale of our stakes, but if we swap all of our convertible bonds, we need a phased sale of equity to create a foundation for HMM’s privatisation.”
Eom had also indicated it will be challenging to find a buyer to purchase more than 70% of HMM’s shares. Compatriot steel producer POSCO was rumoured to have been contacted to acquire the state’s interest in HMM, although this was denied.
KDB and KOBC are managing HMM together, but next year, HMM will come under KOBC’s sole management.
“The joint management was supposed to have ended last year, but as HMM’s restructuring was incomplete, KDB extended its role by another year. We need to take our hands off step by step, but nothing has been decided on the specific timing and method,” explained Lee.