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Woori Financial eyes three overseas M&A deals

Woori Financial Group has been pushing for takeover deals in three overseas markets simultaneously, its chairman Lee Pal-seung told reporters Tuesday.

“We have been in mergers and acquisitions talks in two regions (countries) in Southeast Asia. One of the two negotiations has seen good progress,” he said.

He added that Woori Financial is also carrying out merger talks with a financial company in a country linking Asia and Europe.

Group executives had said they were considering increasing the company’s presence in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam through M&As.

Its strategy in the region reflects the situation under which many Korean companies are doing business there, while the number of Korean expatriates is increasing.

Apart from conducting the takeover deals, the financial group is seeking to open more branches of its flagship Woori Bank in the Southeast Asian market.
Woori Financial Group chairman Lee Pal-seung (right) poses after donating 3,500 bags of rice to the Korea Association of Social Welfare Centers on Tuesday as part of the group’s social activities ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. (Woori Financial)
Woori Financial Group chairman Lee Pal-seung (right) poses after donating 3,500 bags of rice to the Korea Association of Social Welfare Centers on Tuesday as part of the group’s social activities ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. (Woori Financial)

Among Woori Bank’s overseas targets for this year are Chennai, India and Dacca, Bangladesh.

The commercial bank is pursuing international growth by focusing on improving profitability and the financial soundness of overseas branches.

Meanwhile, during the meeting with reporters, Lee painted a rosy picture of the financial group’s project for privatization.

He said that “there was a positive signal” that policymakers are moving to sell most of the government stake in Woori Financial.

Last week, he said that the financial company will resume the stalled plan to sell state-owned shares in the first half of 2012.

Lee also said that “policymakers are actively preparing for the resumption. The method will be welcomed among market participants.”

The Public Fund Oversight Committee, under the wing of the Financial Services Commission, is reportedly poised to put Woori Financial for auction again in the coming months.

He also hinted at successfully spinning off the credit card unit from Woori Bank as early as the first half of this year.

The group has the goal of launching a stand-alone credit card operation. Though Woori Card had been an independent subsidiary of the group, the card issuer was taken over by Woori Bank in the wake of the 2002-03 credit card fiasco.

A review for the FSC’s endorsement process is likely to follow.

Lee dismissed the speculations that financial regulators are taking a wait-and-see or skeptical position on the group’s credit card spin-off plan.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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