Paul Singer isn’t that used to this.
In his war with Samsung’s Lee dynasty over the sale of one piece of their $US270 billion empire, the American hedge fund manager has now lost two important battles.
And he may now only have one card to play.
Singer is fighting to block the sale of construction firm Samsung C&T, of which he owns 7%. He believes the sale price is too low.
The Lee family wants to sell Samsung C&T to their holding company Cheil Industries in order to smooth a generational succession process between their current scion, Lee Kun-hee, and his 47 year old son, Lee Jae-yong. This is something that the family, now three generations into its wealth and power, hasn’t always done cleanly (so to speak).
In other words, in this case, the Lees don’t care about price, they care about peace.
And so far peace is winning.
First, Singer tried to block a July 17th meeting during which shareholders in Samsung C&T would vote on the sale. A South Korean Court sent him packing on that one last week.
Then Singer tried to block the sale of Samsung C&T Treasury notes to a Lee family ally, KCC Corp. Again he was denied in Court.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Lee family’s power. Their business is controlled under something called a chaebol, a complex structure that allows powerful South Korean families to control many companies under one umbrella. In the Lee case, it’s Cheil Industries Inc., a conglomerate that makes up 17% of South Korea’s GDP.
This is a family so powerful that scion Lee Kun-hee himself was ousted as CEO back in 2008 after admitting to tax evasion and corruption. After a year, though, he was back at the helm of the conglomerate. Thanks to a pardon from South Korea’s President.
Of course, Singer is no slouch either. This is the man who has been suing the Argentine government over $US1.7 billion for over a decade, chasing its assets from bank accounts in Belgium to naval vessels docked in Ghana.On more than one occasion, litigation has been his edge over sovereign governments. That is what has prompted Argentines, and people of other nations who find themselves in his crosshairs — South Koreans included — to call him a “vulture.”
Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management, purchased 1% of two other Samsung companies, both of which own between 4% and 5% of Samsung C&T. But, as the WSJ points out, it’s unlikely that the rest of the shareholders in those companies will turn against the Lees.
Singer does, however, have the support of shareholder advisory companies Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis & Co. They may be able to convince Samsung C&T’s biggest shareholder, the $US400 billion-plus South Korean National Pension Service, to side with him.
But it’s not looking good.