Hyundai rejects Elliott's payout call, shares rise ahead of showdown meeting


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© Reuters. Workers walk to work during the morning rush hour in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London

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By Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) – Hyundai Motor Group on Tuesday rejected demands by U.S. activist investor Elliott Management for a combined 7 trillion won (£4.75 billion) dividend payout and new board members, complicating efforts to revamp South Korea’s second-biggest conglomerate.

Opposition from Elliott led Hyundai to drop an attempt to overhaul its ownership structure last year, and Executive Vice-Chairman Euisun Chung pledged in January to complete a restructuring expected to pave the way for him to succeed his father Mong-Koo Chung as group chairman.

Elliott, which was not immediately available for comment, had proposed a 2018 dividend of 4.5 trillion won for Hyundai Motor and 2.5 trillion won for auto parts supplier Hyundai Mobis, according to regulatory filings and sources.

This is well over the companies’ proposed payouts of nearly 1 trillion won.

Hyundai Motor and Hyundai Mobis will hold separate annual shareholders’ meetings on March 22, when shareholders have a chance to vote on the respective proposals made by the companies and Elliott.

Hyundai Motor and Hyundai Mobis shares gained more than 4 percent on Wednesday as investors licked their lips at the prospect of higher returns and a favourable restructuring plan due to Elliott’s pressure.

“We expect a vote showdown at the upcoming meeting, which will create a favourable environment for minority shareholders,” Chung Yong-jin, an analyst at Shinhan Investment and Securities said.

Hyundai Motor Group is expected to come up with a revised restructuring plan, which is expected to be put to a vote at an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting in April or May, experts said.

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“Elliott’s purpose is to eventually rally support from other shareholders for a vote on a restructuring plan,” Park Ju-gun, head of corporate analysis firm CEO Score, said.

Hyundai Motor said in a regulatory filing that the dividend proposed by Elliott would lead to a “massive cash outflow,” hurting future investments and shareholder value.

Hyundai Mobis also said it would “undermine its future competitiveness” as it needs to invest more than 4 trillion won to develop new vehicles over the next three years.

Instead Hyundai Mobis announced a 2.6 trillion won shareholder return package over the next three years, less than Elliott’s demand for at least 4 trillion won.

The Hyundai Mobis package includes dividends worth 1.1 trillion won, a buyback of stock worth 1 trillion won and a cancellation of 460 billion won worth of shares.

It said it will appoint former Opel Chief Executive Karl-Thomas Neumann, and Brian Jones, co-president at Archegos Capital Management, as outside board directors.

Hyundai Motor said it will also add foreigners as outside board directors, while appointing president Albert Biermann, a former BMW executive, as a new board member.

Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Motor also announced plans on Tuesday to appoint Euisun Chung as co-CEO. Mong-Koo Chung will remain as co-CEO of the two companies.

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