Lone Star to resume $3.9B KEB stake sale

Dallas-based Lone Star Funds plans to resume selling a $3.9 billion majority stake in Korea Exchange Bank (KEB), the bank said, in what would rank as South Korea’s biggest banking deal to date.

Previous attempts by Lone Star to sell its 51% holding in the country’s 6th-ranked lender to Kookmin Bank for $7.3 billion in 2006 and to HSBC for $6.3 billion in 2008 failed due to pricing and legal disputes over the private equity firm’s South Korean activities.

Most of those legal issues have since been resolved in court.

The sale of the stake, currently valued at 4.4 trillion won ($3.9 billion), could trigger consolidation in the sector ahead of planned sales by the government of stakes in 3rd-ranked Woori Finance Holdings and Korea Development Bank.

“(Lone Star) notified our board members today that they would resume selling the stake,” a KEB spokeswoman said, adding that lead managers would be selected soon for the sale, which will be offered to domestic and foreign investors.

KEB shares have more than doubled since late 2008 when HSBC walked away, and the value of Lone Star’s holding has also risen since it bought it for $1.2 billion in 2003.

Managing Partner John Grayken said last month the fund expected to sell the stake in the next six months.

Domestic lenders Kookmin, part of KB Financial Group, state-owned KDB and Hana Financial Group last year expressed interest in the KEB stake, but HSBC denied talk late last year that it could return to the bidding.

“Lone Star may have to sell it cheap, if they want to exit from KEB, as I don’t expect a lot of foreign investors would bid because KEB is already quite expensive,” said Park Jung-hyun, a Hanwha Securities analyst.

“The acquisition premium will be less than 20% to the current price … and, among domestic potential bidders, Kookmin has better M&A firepower than Hana,” said Park, who added that Hana would really have to convince its shareholders as it may need to raise capital for a KEB deal. —Miyoung Kim and Kim Yeon-hee, Reuters