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Samsung, LG keep close eye on depreciating yen

Monitoring taskforces in motion at conglomerates since late 2012

Samsung, LG and a number of other conglomerates and exporters such as Hyundai Motor have been operating emergency taskforce teams since late last year to cope with the falling Japanese currency, industry sources said on Sunday.

Airlines ― Korean Air and Asiana Airlines ― are no exception, as their latest fiscal figures show they are in an uphill battle against the depreciating yen.

These teams were assembled mostly in November or December last year on the first signs from internal research units of the yen’s devaluation, the sources said.

The Japanese currency, after declining for the past several months on Tokyo’s economic stimulus measures, fell more than 14 percent against the Korean won in the first quarter, according to figures from the Bank of Korea.

The yen’s collapse against the U.S. dollar is equally conspicuous. Last week, the yen officially breached the 100 level against the greenback to mark its lowest in more than 4 years.

For Korea, the cheap yen is dreaded news since it has to compete with Japan in almost every export market abroad.

The annual operating loss can reach up to 30 billion won per 10 won of appreciation against the yen, depending on the size of the business operations.

“We are managing by cutting corners, especially the raw costs, but this also isn’t easy since the bulk of the raw materials come from abroad, meaning we have to negotiate prices with China and other overseas suppliers,” said one corporate executive.

These measures may also trigger unwanted repercussions, those at Hyundai Motor said, since they might have to approach their suppliers to lower their supply prices, which is “highly undesirable.”

The local carrier industry was no exception to the exchange rate risk.

Up until the yen’s depreciation, carriers had been enjoying a hey day as Japanese tourists streamed in to take advantage of the relatively cheaper Korean currency.

Those days are long gone. Korean Air in the first quarter of this year suffered a net deficit of over 300 billion won. It compared to the 64.2 trillion it incurred in the same period last year.

Declining Japanese tourists aren’t the only reason, but the 254.5 billion won of foreign currency translation loss it incurred due to the yen’s devaluation played a major role, industry watchers said.

Asiana, the country’s No.2 airliner, registered a net quarterly deficit of 48.2 billion won, widening from the 1.9 billion won deficit in the same quarter of last year.

By Kim Ji-hyun (