SEOUL (Reuters) - The second-largest shareholder in Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) and its two affiliates will vote against the reappointment of two of the sister firms’ board members who last year approved buying a Seoul property for $10 billion, or three times its appraised value.
The veto by the National Pension Service (NPS) against one outside director at both Kia Motors (000270.KS) and Hyundai Mobis (012330.KS) may not change structure of their boards because the government-run fund holds less than 10 percent in each company.
A “no” vote, however, would reflect investor discontent over the often-opaque decision-making at family-run South Korean conglomerates known as chaebols, which typically trade at discounts to their global peers partly due to concerns over poor corporate governance.
Shares in Hyundai Motor, Kia and Hyundai Mobis took a hit last year after the companies bid for the property in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam district for $10 billion from state-owned Korea Electric Power Corp (015760.KS) to house a new headquarters.
Board members of the three companies agreed to bid for the land without knowing how much would be bid, sources told Reuters at the time.
The NPS also said in a statement that directors failed to live up to their responsibility because they did not discuss the bid price and others, although “the decision had an enormous impact on corporate profits.”
The NPS, however, decided to abstain the appointment of five company directors who were involved in the decision, “considering management stability.”
Reuters earlier reported that the NPS would oppose some of the board nominees at the upcoming annual shareholders’ meetings, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
“This will give a warning signal over Hyundai’s corporate governance problems,” said the source, who declined to be named as the matter remained confidential.
A spokesman for Hyundai Motor Group declined to comment on the matter.
Hyundai Motor and Hyundai Mobis are due to ask investors to vote on the board during their annual shareholders’ meetings on Friday, while Kia’s meeting is scheduled for next week.
Brain Asset Management, which holds 0.14 percent of shares in Hyundai Motor, the country’s largest automaker, also said it would vote against the appointment of Hyundai Motor board director Yoon Kap-han because the property acquisition “resulted in a stock price plunge, causing serious damage to investors”.
After the land deal, the automaker announced a dividend hike and a share buyback, moves apparently aimed at defusing investor anger, but its shares are still down 19 percent since the bid as of Tuesday, compared with the wider market’s 4 percent fall.
Editing by Tony Munroe and Louise Heavens