The liquidity crisis at Dongbu Group is deepening as the nation’s 18th-largest business group has difficulty raising funds through asset sales.
Dongbu Steel Co, one of the group’s key subsidiaries with 2.6 trillion won in debt, is pushing for a voluntary restructuring deal with its creditors, as POSCO recently rejected an offer to take over the company’s cold-rolled steel plant in Incheon together with Dongbu Power’s lucrative plant in Dangjin.
If creditors accept Dongbu Steel’s proposal, the company would be allowed to restructure its operations on a voluntary basis. Yet should they reject the offer, it would be forced to conclude a stringent debt-workout agreement.
The group’s crisis could worsen as Dongbu CNI, the de facto holding company of its manufacturing affiliates, has trouble refinancing maturing debt.
Should the systems integration company default on its debt, it would have to apply for court-supervised corporate rehabilitation, meaning that its owner would be deprived of managerial rights.
As Dongbu CNI has stakes in Dongbu Steel, Dongbu Hitek and Dongbu Farm Hannong, its collapse would affect these units as well.
The group can avoid this scenario if Kim Jun-ki, its chairman, uses his personal assets, including the stakes he and his family hold in group companies, to raise funds.
Creditors are pressuring Kim to offer as collateral part of the stakes his son has in Dongbu Fire Insurance, the group’s most profitable unit. But Kim is resistant as accepting the creditors’ demand would jeopardize his family’s control of the group.
Yet Kim should realize that time is not on his side. He needs to be reminded that many business groups that suffered a liquidity crisis collapsed due to their failure to act promptly. He has no time to wrangle with creditors.
Dongbu has had enough time to get itself out of trouble. Warnings were first issued early last year when STX Group, the nation’s 14th-largest conglomerate, floundered in debt.
In November, Kim announced a restructuring plan, pledging to raise 3 trillion won by 2015 through asset sales. But he has thus far raised less than 1 trillion won, raising doubts among creditors about his commitment to asset disposal.
Kim needs to make bold moves, taking lessons from the unending series of corporate collapses, including Woongjin, STX and Tong Yang. Creditor banks, for their part, need to put pressure on him to move quickly.
They also need to ensure that heavily indebted conglomerates make preemptive restructuring efforts to avoid going belly up.