Daewoo Group, one of South Korea's largest conglomerates, which is struggling under $57 billion of debt, said it opposes the government's decision to give creditors control over the sale of its assets, saying that might endanger ongoing sale talks.
"Too many cooks can spoil the broth," said Kim Byung Chol, a spokesman for the group. "We're frightened that creditors may step in and disrupt sales talks that are already nearing completion."
The government gave Daewoo's main creditors until Aug. 11 to decide which group units to sell and when. The move was meant to calm stock market jitters about whether the country's second-largest conglomerate can raise cash fast enough to avoid what would be Korea's biggest bankruptcy ever. The Seoul-based group includes more than 30 domestic companies and nearly 400 subsidiaries around the world involved in a broad range of industries, including trading, heavy industry, shipping, construction, electronics and telecommunications.
While the market responded positively to the move, some investors raised questions about creditor banks' ability to sell assets rapidly.
In many cases, pricing has been a major stumbling block, with creditors putting more importance on securing the highest possible price than on selling assets quickly.
The government, however, is refusing to bend. "Daewoo's position is understandable, but Daewoo already had its chance and failed," said Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Lee Hun Jai. "Its time is up."
Lee said that the decision reflects the government's commitment to restructure Daewoo "vigorously and rapidly."
Daewoo's Kim said the company's restructuring team is in talks with potential foreign investors on 13 separate projects. One of these, the sale of Daewoo Electronics Co. to a U.S. investment bank he declined to name, is near completion and waiting for approval from the U.S. company's board.
A Daewoo official, who asked not to be named, said the U.S. company has already signed a memorandum of understanding under which it would take over only Daewoo Electronics' assets for $3.2 billion in cash and no debt. Daewoo Group owns 8 percent of Daewoo Electronics.
The group also is in talks to sell its commercial vehicle business to either Scania AB, Europe's third-largest truckmaker, or Man AG, Germany's second-biggest truckmaker, and its shipbuilding business to an unnamed company, Kim said.
Negotiations are also under way to sell Daewoo Capital Management Co. to Scudder Kemper Investment Inc. Daewoo Capital, which had $1 billion of assets under management at the end of February, is sub-adviser to the Korea Fund, a closed-end U.S. mutual fund managed by Scudder Kemper.
Today, Standard & Poor's downgraded its rating of Daewoo's debt to "CCC" from "B-," warning the rating may be downgraded further.
"The downgrade reflects increasing pressure on the Daewoo Group to reduce debt, despite the group's success in extending and expanding short-term borrowings from major domestic creditors," said the international credit rating company. "The company continues to face financial risks from its swelling debt burden."