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A chaebol (Korean: 재벌, from chae "wealth or property" + bol "faction or clan") is a South Korean form of business conglomerate. They are typically global multinationals owning numerous international enterprises, controlled by a chairman who has power over all the operations. The term is often used in a context similar to that of the English word "conglomerate". The term was first used in 1984. There are several dozen large Korean family-controlled corporate groups which fall under this definition.
The chaebol has also played a significant role in South Korean politics. In 1988, a member of a chaebol family, Chung Mong-jun, president of Hyundai Heavy Industries, successfully ran for the National Assembly of South Korea. Other business leaders also were chosen to be members of the National Assembly through proportional representation. Since 2000, Hyundai has played a role in the thawing of North Korean and South Korean relations.[clarification needed]
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2011)|
South Korea's economy was small and predominantly agricultural well into the mid-20th century. However, the policies of President Park Chung Hee spurred rapid industrialization by promoting large businesses, following his seizure of power in 1961. This was called the First Five Year Economic Plan. Government industrial policy set the direction of new investment, and the chaebol were to be guaranteed loans from the banking sector. In this way, the chaebol played a key role in developing new industries, markets, and export production, helping place South Korea as one of the Four Asian Tigers.
Although South Korea's major industrial programs did not begin until the early 1960s, the origins of the country's entrepreneurial elite were found in the political economy of the 1950s. Very few Koreans had owned or managed larger corporations during the Japanese colonial period. After the departure of the Japanese in 1945, some Korean businessmen obtained the assets of some of the Japanese firms, a number of which grew into the chaebol of the 1990s. These companies, as well as certain other firms that were formed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had close links with Syngman Rhee's First Republic, which lasted from 1948 to 1960. It was alleged that many of these companies received special favors from the government in return for kickbacks and other payments.
When the military took over the government in 1961, military leaders announced that they would eradicate the corruption that had plagued the Rhee administration and eliminate injustice from society. Some leading industrialists were arrested and charged with corruption, but the new government realized that it would need the help of the entrepreneurs if the government's ambitious plans to modernize the economy were to be fulfilled. A compromise was reached, under which many of the accused corporate leaders paid fines to the government. Subsequently, there was increased cooperation between corporate and government leaders in modernizing the economy.
Government-chaebol cooperation was essential to the subsequent economic growth and astounding successes that began in the early 1960s. Driven by the urgent need to turn the economy away from consumer goods and light industries toward heavy, chemical, and import-substitution industries, political leaders and government planners relied on the ideas and cooperation of the chaebol leaders. The government provided the blueprints for industrial expansion; the chaebol realized the plans. However, the chaebol-led industrialization accelerated the monopolistic and oligopolistic concentration of capital and economically profitable activities in the hands of a limited number of conglomerates.
Park used the chaebol as a means towards economic growth. Exports were encouraged, reversing Rhee's policy of reliance on imports. Performance quotas were established.
The chaebol were able to grow because of two factors—foreign loans and special favors. Access to foreign technology also was critical to the growth of the chaebol through the 1980s. Under the guise of "guided capitalism," the government selected companies to undertake projects and channeled funds from foreign loans. The government guaranteed repayment should a company be unable to repay its foreign creditors. Additional loans were made available from domestic banks. In the late 1980s, the chaebol dominated the industrial sector and were especially prevalent in manufacturing, trading, and heavy industries.
The tremendous growth that the chaebol experienced, beginning in the early 1960s, was closely tied to the expansion of South Korean exports. Growth resulted from the production of a diversity of goods rather than just one or two products. Innovation and the willingness to develop new product lines were critical. In the 1950s and early 1960s, chaebol concentrated on wigs and textiles; by the mid-1970s and 1980s, heavy, defense, and chemical industries had become predominant. While these activities were important in the early 1990s, real growth was occurring in the electronics and high-technology industries. The chaebol also were responsible for turning the trade deficit in 1985 to a trade surplus in 1986. The current account balance, however, fell from more than US$14 billion in 1988 to US$5 billion in 1989.
The chaebol continued their explosive growth in export markets in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, the chaebol had become financially independent and secure—thereby eliminating the need for further government-sponsored credit and assistance.
By the 1990s, South Korea was one of the largest NICs, and boasted a standard of living comparable to industrialized countries.
President Kim Young-sam began to challenge the chaebol, but it was not until the Asian financial crisis in 1997 that the weaknesses of the system were widely understood. Of the 30 largest chaebol, 11 collapsed between July 1997 and June 1999. Initially, the crisis was caused by sharp drop in the value of the currency, and aside from immediate cash flow concerns for paying foreign debts, this lower cost ultimately helped the stronger chaebol expand their brands to western markets, but with the simultaneous decline of nearby export markets in Southeast Asia which had been fueling growth, the large debts incurred for what was now overcapacity proved fatal to many of the chaebol. The remaining chaebol also became far more specialized in their focus. For example, with a population only ranked at #26 in the world, before the crisis, the country had seven major automobile manufacturers, and after only two major manufacturers remained intact, though two additional continued, in a smaller capacity, under General Motors and Renault.
The chaebol debts were not only to state industrial banks, but to independent banks and their own financial services subsidiaries. The scale of the loan defaults meant that banks could neither foreclose nor write off bad loans without themselves collapsing, so the failure to service these debts quickly caused a systemic banking crises, and South Korea was forced to turn to the IMF for assistance. The most spectacular example came in mid-1999 with the collapse of the Daewoo Group, which had some US$80 billion in unpaid debt. At the time, it was the largest corporate bankruptcy in history.
Despite this, South Korea recovered quickly from the crisis, and most of blame for the economic problems was shifted to the IMF. The remaining chaebol have grown substantially since the crisis, but they have maintained far lower debt levels.
As of 2014, the largest chaebol, Samsung, comprised about 17% of the South Korean economy, and held roughly US$17 billion in cash.
Even though the chaebol system helped bring about rapid growth and helped Korea launch itself on the international stage, it has many negativities and negative impacts on the Korean economy:
Emergence and inflation
The origins of the chaebol system in South Korea come as consequence of the Korean War. The war resulted in much destruction and halted industrial production, which led the government to print money to pay for the war, and also meet requirements of the United Nations forces for the Korean currency, all of which caused mass inflation. This inflation caused many commodity prices to double every six months. The government had to react, and so devised a plan in providing strong financial incentives to private companies between the 1960s and 1970s. This plan consisted on the government choosing select family businesses to distribute these incentives (imported raw materials, commodities, bank loans). The impact was immediate, and most these businesses flourished rapidly. These protected infant companies allowed them to develop because of the highly regulated market which prevented foreign companies from entering. Many companies that were not in said circle of businesses saw this system as flawed and corrupted. While these problems have never erupted into the sort of "crony capitalism" problems common in Southeast Asia, corruption scandals have periodically visited all of the chaebol.
The chairmen in charge of the chaebol possess a small portion of equity in the companies under the large umbrella of the chaebol, but are very powerful in making decisions and have the ability to control all management. For example Samsung owns 0.5% in the group’s listed firms. This demonstrates a lack in the rule of law. This method that allows this type of possession is called cross-holding, which is a horizontal and vertical structure that enhances the control of the chairman.
Internal market transactions accountability
Because the government gave out incentives to help businesses, they had a lot of control over them. However, there was not a way to hold accountable these businesses that they would use the incentives in an effective and efficient manner. In other words, there was no external monitoring system to monitor the chaebol and ensure that it is efficient in the allocation of resources. All the businesses undertake internal market transactions, which constitute "purchase and sale of intermediate inputs, the provision and receipt of loan collaterals, and the provision and receipt of payment guarantees among member firms in a business group". Because of this it poses the question of efficiency, especially in production and management. Therefore, the system of chaebol was not very transparent. Behind the scenes these businesses were provided with subsidiary financing and intra-group transactions. This allowed them easy loans to cover for their deficits, and prior to the 1997 crisis huge debts had accumlated, many of which were hidden. This is what gave the illusion to the world that the system was flourishing into the 1990s.
"Too big to fail"
During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, bankers feared that the chaebols would go bankrupt, so they allowed these businesses to roll over their loans each time they were unable to repay their debts. They allowed this because there was a common misconception that these businesses were "too big to fail" — many did not believe that the chaebols were capable of collapsing and that the more they borrowed, the safer they were. However, this theory was proven wrong when many businesses collapsed during the crisis. Since they were linked through debt guarantees, many of the companies fell in a chain reaction. The focus on capacity expansion created this debt that was manageable when the economy was growing. However when it stalled, debt-to-equity ratios became a huge problem. Since the crisis, the chaebols now have less debt, so they are less vulnerable to similar crises, as demonstrated in the 2008 crisis, but the growth of the fewer remaining chaebol has meant they each occupy a larger portion of the economy.
Some chaebol are one large corporation, while others have broken up into loosely connected groups of separate companies sharing a common name. Even in the latter case, each is almost always owned, controlled, or managed by the same family group.
South Korea's chaebol are often compared with Japan's keiretsu business groupings, the successors to the pre-war zaibatsu. While the "chaebol" are similar to the "zaibatsu" (the words are cognates, from the same hanja, or kanji), some major differences have evolved between chaebol and keiretsu:
- Chaebol are still largely controlled by their founding families, while keiretsu are controlled by groups of professional managers. Chaebol, furthermore, are more family based and family oriented than their Japanese counterparts.
- Chaebol are centralized in ownership, while keiretsu are more decentralized.
- Chaebol have more often formed subsidiaries to produce components for exports, while large Japanese corporations have mostly switched to employing outside contractors.
- The major structural difference between Korean chaebol and the Japanese keiretsu is that chaebol do not all have their own financial institutions. Most were heavily dependent on government loans and loan guarantees in their early years, and they still have a closer relationship with government than their Japanese counterparts. Chaebol are largely prohibited from owning private banks, partly to spread risk and partly to increase the government's leverage over the banks in areas such as credit allocation. In 1990, government regulations made it difficult for a chaebol to develop an exclusive banking relationship, but following the cascading collapses of the late 1990s this was somewhat relaxed. Keiretsu have historically worked with an affiliated bank, giving the affiliated companies almost unlimited access to credit, so the Japanese economic problems have been known for zombie banks rather than a systemic banking crises. Though, many of the largest keiretsu have diversified their debt practices and public bond sales have become somewhat common.
The chaebol model is heavily reliant on a complex system of interlocking ownership. The owner of the chaebol, with the help of family members, family-owned charity and senior managers from subsidiaries, only has to control three of four public companies, who themselves control other companies that control subsidiaries. A good example of this practice would be the owner of Doosan, who controlled more than 20 subsidiaries with only a minor participation in about 5 companies.
- Instead of competing in every industry, the chaebol were pressured to focus on core businesses and spin off unrelated enterprises.
- The chaebol were to decentralize their management and encourage the hiring of professional managers.
- Accounting regulations were strengthened to limit the ability of chaebol to hide losses and debt at underperforming subsidiaries.
- A crackdown on antitrust laws and inheritance taxes would impede the ability of families to retain control over their chaebol.
Both Kim and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, had mixed success. The chaebol continue to dominate South Korea's economy. Hyundai and SK Group have been implicated in separate scandals involving both presidents. Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee resigned amid charges of tax evasion and breach of trust in April 2008.
The Federation of Korean Industries, a consortium of chaebol, has taken a leading role in resisting changes.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2011)|
Laws passed to limit the expansion of chaebol include:
- Law for separate finance from industry (ko:금산분리법;金産分離法 : Chaebol can't have banks) enacted in 1982
- Law for limit of investment (출자총액제한;出資總額制限 : Law to limit a chaebol's growth by M&A) abrogated in 2009
- Law for limit of assurance (상호출자채무보증제한;相互出資債務保證制限 : Law for defending the insolvency of a chaebol's affiliates)
Formally, Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC; 공정거래위원회;公正去來委員會) announces a limited Chaebol list every year as size of industrial assets (not including financial companies).
- Appointment: Korea Fair Trade Commission
- Inclusion: industrial groups (assets: 5 trillion won, more)
- Exclusion: Bank and financial group
Chaebol that limited assurance (상호출자제한기업집단;相互出資制限企業集團)
- Year Chaebol Affiliates: Assets
- 2007 : 62 : 1,196 Ent : 979.7 trillion won (Not include bank and financial group by South Korean law)
- 2008 : 79 : 1,680 Ent : 1,161.5 trillion won (more than 2 trillion won)
- 2009 : 48 : 1,137 Ent : 1,310.6 trillion won (more than 5 trillion won)
- Samsung Group's total assets are 317 trillion won, but FTC recognize only 174 trillion won that excepted financial subsidiary.
- Nonghyup's total assets are 400 trillion won, but FTC recognize only 2 trillion won that excepted financial assets because Nonghyup is financial group by South Korean law.
Chaebol by revenue
The following charts list chaebol in order by different categories.
- Management : chaebol controlled by the owner's family or the largest shareholders
|Chaebol by family groups||Won||Total Assets||Family Groups|
|Samsung family group||252 Trillion||348.7||Shinsegae + Homeplus + CJ + Hansol Groups|
|Hyundai family group||203 Trillion||204.4||Motors + Heavy + Steel + insurance + trade + construction|
|LG family group||191 Trillion||148.4||LG 115 + GS 49.8 + LS 20.5 + LIG 6.5 Groups (Revenue)|
- Business Area: a chaebol that has several monopolies.
|Chaebol by each Groups||Won||Total Assets||Business Areas|
|Samsung Group||221 trillion||317.5||Electronics, insurance, card, construction & shipbuilding|
|LG Group||115 trillion||69.5||Electronics, insurance, chemicals, telecom & trade|
|Hyundai Kia Automotive Group||107 trillion||128.7||Motors, steel & stock|
|SK Group||105 trillion||85.9||Energy, telecom, trade, construction & semiconductors|
|GS Group||49.8 trillion||39.0||Energy, shopping & construction|
|Lotte||41.4 trillion||54.9||Construction, food, energy, Hospitality & Shopping|
|Hyundai Heavy Industries Gp||31.3 trillion||42.8||Heavy industry (including Hyundai Mipo Shipbuilding)|
|Hanwha||27.24 trillion||75.7||Explosives, chem, insurance|
|Hanjin||26.1 trillion||29.1||Korean Air, Jin Air, shipping, heavy industry|
|Kumho Asiana Group||23.4 trillion||43.9||Asiana Air, Air Busan, construction, petrochemical, tire|
|Doosan||21.4 trillion||32.7||Heavy industry, atomic energy|
- Organization : a chaebol that has other chaebol as affiliates
|Chaebol by each unit||Won||Total Assets||Business Areas|
|Samsung Electronics||121.2943||105.3||Electronics, LCD, TV, mobile phone, semiconductor|
|LG Holdings||90.2224||64.7||Holding (consolidated result by share rate)|
|SK Holdings||88.8249||68.9||Holding (consolidated result by share rate)|
|LG Electronics||63.2803||42.3||Electronics, LCD, TV, mobile phone, air conditioner|
|Hyundai Heavy Industries||27.4835||38.3||Heavy industry (Excluding Hyundai Mipo Shipbuilding)|
|LS Group||20.5330||14.5||Steel, cable & energy|
|Samsung C&T Corporation||20.4834||15.4||Trade & construction|
|Doosan Heavy Industries||19.2317||30.1||Heavy industry (including Doosan Infracore)|
|Hyundai Oil Bank||14.8347||4.8||Energy|
|GM Daewoo Motors||14.7623||9.5||Motors|
|Daelim Group||14.5000||11.0||MotorCycle, Construction & Petrochemical|
|Dongbu Group||15.4950||24.7||Semiconductor, Steel & insurance|
|Hyundai Mobis||13.8472||10.4||Motor parts|
|Kyobo Life||13.5155||47.8||insurance (07)|
|Daehan Life||12.7776||50.9||insurance (08) Hanwha Group's company|
|CJ Group||12.4100||12.3||Food & shopping|
|Samsung Heavy Industries||10.6895||26.5||Shipbuilding|
|Korean Air||10.4844||17.7||Hanjin Group's company|
|NH Nonghyup insurance||10.1827||27.8||Insurance|
- Consolidated IR Reports : DART (Data Analysis, Retrieval and Transfer System : 전자공시시스템) of Financial Supervisory Service (금융감독원)
- Korea has about 100 chaebol (more than 5 trillion Won) by revenue.
- Korea's total financial assets is 8.665 quadrillion won(8 trillion USD) by The Bank of Korea's report
- Economy of South Korea
- Family business
- Holding company
- List of Korea-related topics
- List of South Korean companies
- Vertical integration
- The Hongs
- Mega Corporation
- "chaebol". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
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- Hyundai's $500 Million Payments to North Korea: A Bribe or Business Deal? Korea WebWeekly (February 9, 2003)
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- NH농협 대한민국 NO.1 유통 금융리더::::[dead link]
- Beck, Peter M. "Are Korea's Chaebol Serious About Restructuring?" Presentation at the Korea 2000 conference, May 30, 2000. Korea Economic Institute of America
- "Unfinished Business," The Economist, April 17, 2003
- "Web site: South Korean conglomerates," The Economist, December 11, 1997
- Whitmore, Stuart and Nakarmi, Laxmi. "Guide to the Groups: The pecking order of the top 20 chaebol," Asiaweek, October 10, 1997.
- S.Korea's Samsung president resigns over corruption scandal