HSBC scraps agreement to buy South Korean bank
Saturday, 20 September 2008

AP, SEOUL, South Korea -- British bank HSBC Holdings PLC said Friday it has canceled an agreement to purchase a controlling stake in a South Korean bank from U.S. private equity group Lone Star Funds amid world financial turmoil.

HSBC said in a statement that it ''exercised its right to terminate the acquisition agreement with immediate effect.'' The London-based bank cited ''all relevant factors including current asset values in world financial markets'' for the decision. It gave Thursday as the date of the cancellation.
 
''Discussions with Lone Star have not led to agreement on how the transaction might proceed on a basis acceptable to HSBC,'' the bank said.
 
HSBC agreed in September last year to purchase the stake in Korea Exchange Bank from Dallas, Texas-based Lone Star, which has faced regulatory and legal obstacles in efforts to sell its 51 percent stake in the local lender it purchased in 2003.
 
South Korea's financial regulator, which was reviewing the proposed acquisition by HSBC, had recently suggested it was likely to be approved. Global financial turmoil this week, however, appears to have played a major role in scuttling the deal.
 
''In the light of developments around the world, not least changes in asset values in world markets, we do not believe that it would be in the best interests of shareholders to continue to pursue this acquisition on the terms negotiated last year,'' Sandy Flockhart, chief executive officer of HSBC Asia and an executive director of HSBC, said in the statement.
 
HSBC had contracted to buy Lone Star's controlling stake in KEB, South Korea's sixth-largest lender, for about $6 billion.
 
The Financial Services Commission, the regulator, expressed disappointment.
 
''It is regrettable that HSBC unilaterally canceled the contract during the review process despite active efforts by the FSC,'' the regulator said in a statement.
 
Lone Star Chairman John Grayken confirmed HSBC's decision.
 
''We are disappointed that HSBC terminated the agreement and that the transaction will not be completed,'' he said in a statement.
 
Investors reacted to the news, rewarding HSBC while punishing KEB.
 
HSBC's stock price rose 7.48 percent to close at 123.50 Hong Kong dollars ($16) in Hong Kong trading. In Seoul, KEB shares fell 10.3 percent to finish at 11,350 won ($10).
 
Also Friday, the British bank announced it was selling its 18.7 percent stake in Mexican microfinance lender Financiera Independencia for $145 million.
 
HSBC said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that it has decided to focus on its core Mexican retail financial services business.
 
HSBC signed the deal with Lone Star after a previous effort to sell the stake to Kookmin Bank, South Korea's largest bank, collapsed in 2006.
 
Lone Star has battled suspicions that it was able to purchase KEB at a bargain price after allegedly colluding with government officials to understate the bank's financial health.
 
The fund has denied any wrongdoing and argued its rehabilitation of once-financially strapped KEB has been good for South Korea's economy.
 
Lone Star's efforts to sell KEB have also run up against public opinion in South Korea seen as hostile to foreign buyout firms.
 
In June, a South Korean appeals court overturned a guilty verdict against Lone Star in a stock manipulation case, causing speculation that its fortunes were turning.
 
Korea Exchange Bank CEO Richard Wacker lamented HSBC's cancellation in a statement, calling it ''a lost opportunity for KEB and Korea.''

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