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Shinsegae hoards cash for duty-free bid

South Korean retail giant Shinsegae Group has raised more than 650 billion won ($598 million) by selling its Samsung Life Insurance shares in a stock block deal.

According to finance industry sources, the two Shinsegae arms ― Shinsegae Department Store and Emart ― each sold 3 million shares of Samsung Life Insurance, at 109,200 won per share.

The sale price was 6.27 percent lower than the 116,500 won at which the shares closed trading on Thursday.

Foreign investors bought 74 percent of the sold shares, while local institutions grabbed the rest, according to sources with knowledge on the matter.

After the deal, Shinsegae and Emart’s stake in the insurer now stand at 2.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively.

Shinsegae did not elaborate on where it will utilize the cash, but the move is widely seen as securing funds to invest in its new duty-free business. While Shinesegae left the possibilities open, industry watchers believe it shows the retail giant’s big ambitions to enter the duty-free shopping market.

Along with his cousin Lee Boo-jin of Hotel Shilla, Shinsegae Group vice chairman Chung Yong-jin has been pushing to win one of the three licenses to operate a duty-free store in Seoul.

In the bid to win, Shinsegae on Thursday announced plans to transform its main department store in central Seoul into a duty-free store should it be selected.

Located across the Bank of Korea, the main branch of Shinsegae Department Store has long served as one of Seoul’s landmarks.

Such bold moves are thought to have been fueled by the lucrative duty-free business.

According to industry estimates, the country’s duty-free shopping market will continue to undergo rapid expansion to break the 10 trillion won mark this year.

With one of the few remaining frontiers of retail at stake, some of the country’s largest conglomerates, including Hanwha, Hyundai Department Store and SK, have come headlong into the race.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)
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