The Korea Herald


MBK ups ante in Hankook bid

Private equity house raises bid price by 20 percent to 24,000 won

By Im Eun-byel

Published : Dec. 17, 2023 - 16:02

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The headquarters of Hankook Tire & Technology situated in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. (Hankook Tire & Technology) The headquarters of Hankook Tire & Technology situated in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. (Hankook Tire & Technology)

Seoul-based private equity firm MBK Partners is gearing up for a second round in a battle for control of Hankook & Co., the holding company behind Korea's largest tire maker, Hankook Tire & Technology.

On Friday, MBK said through Ventura, a special purpose company set up for the bid, that it has raised its offer for the public tender for Hankook & Co., from 20,000 won ($15.34) to 24,000 won per share.

"This would be the first and last price raise," MBK said in a statement issued on Friday.

MBK, Asia's largest private equity firm in terms of assets under management, aims to secure up to 27.32 percent in Hankook & Co., worth about 620 billion based on the raised price.

The announcement comes as the company's share price fell below the previously offered price earlier in the day, closing at 15,850 won.

The price fall likely stemmed from investors deeming the proxy fight practically wrapped up after honorary Chairman Cho Yang-rai announced that he had secured an additional stake in the company, to back up his younger son Hankook Tire & Technology Chairman Cho Hyun-bum on Thursday.

A regulatory filing showed that the father bought some 2.72 percent of the total shares of Hankook & Co. from Dec. 7 to Thursday. Food and beverage group Hy, headed by Yoon Ho-joong, known to be a close friend of the younger son, also acquired less than 1 percent stake in the holdings company.

Chairman Cho Hyun-bum already owns a 42.03 percent stake in the company.

Yet, rather than backing down, MBK raised the stakes Friday by announcing a 20 percent markup on the bidding price. It also further requested the financial watchdog Financial Supervisory Service to look into Cho Yang-rai's on-the-floor trading transactions, claiming he tried to manipulate the stock price to hinder its tender offer.

If the attempt goes as planned, the private equity giant will take control of the tire company that is expected to benefit from the burgeoning electric vehicle market. In addition, having teamed up with Cho's siblings Hyun-shick and Hee-won, it can make an efficient exit from the company when needed, by exercising the drag-along right of the shares held by the two, enforcing them to join in the sale of a company.

“We have launched the tender offer as Hankook & Co.’s corporate value is unable to be fully realized under the current governance despite its strong fundamentals and high potential,” MBK said in a separate statement.

This is considered a rare hostile merger attempt for MBK amid skepticism prevalent among industry watchers.

Earlier this year, the company acquired Osstem Implant, the scandal-ridden dental implant maker, in a tender offer, but at the time it teamed up with Chairman Kyu-ok, the then-largest shareholder of the company.

"From MBK's perspective, the tire maker has limitations in its business expansion due to legal risks associated with its chairman," said an industry source familiar with the matter, referring to the bribery and embezzlement charges against Chairman Cho Hyun-bum who has been set on bail on Nov. 28.

Another source, however, questioned MBK's true intention.

"MBK may be showing that it is also interested in taking over stakes in even larger family-owned conglomerates," he said. "Still, the situation is not favorable for now. If it fails, there seems little to win."