September 20, 2018 / 7:59 AM / in 7 months

Two Samsung units to sell group firm's shares, as South Korea targets cross-ownerships

SEOUL (Reuters) - Two Samsung Group affiliates said they are selling their entire stakes worth a combined $867 million in Samsung’s de facto holding company, as South Korea’s biggest conglomerate faces government pressure to unwind group cross-shareholdings.

The moves follow a similar stake sale in the de facto holding company, Samsung C&T Corp (028260.KS), by another Samsung affiliate earlier this year, as the government forces big business groups to improve opaque ownership structures.

Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance (000810.KS) said in a regulatory filing on Thursday that the sale of 2.6 million shares in C&T was to improve its asset management. And Samsung Electro-Mechanics (009150.KS) said in a separate filing it also decided to unload about 5 million shares in Samsung C&T to secure funds for investments and improve its balance sheet.

The shares will be sold in the stock market as block trades, they said.

Asked if the planned sales are intended to ease the cross-shareholdings, representatives of Samsung Fire and Samsung Electro-Mechanics declined to comment.

Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] is controlled through a web of circular shareholdings between companies such as Samsung C&T, Samsung Life Insurance (032830.KS) and Samsung Electronics (005930.KS).

Critics have said the structure has enabled the family of Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee to retain control of the companies in the conglomerate, especially crown jewel Samsung Electronics, with minimum investments.

“Samsung has no straight answer to completely resolve its shareholding structure, although the antitrust watchdog is putting pressure on it. This is the least they can do,” said Ahn Sang-hee, head general manager at Daishin Economic Research Institute.

Earlier this year, Samsung SDI (006400.KS) sold its shares in Samsung C&T.

Samsung C&T shares closed up 4 percent, while Samsung Elec-Mech was down 3.3 percent versus the wider market's .KS11 0.63 percent rise.

Reporting by Ju-min Park and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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