Woori sale open to foreigners: FSC head

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) -- The sale of Woori Finance Holdings Co. is open to foreign investors as well, South Korea's top financial regulator said Friday, amid the government's stern move to wrap up the long-pending privatization of the country's largest banking group.

Shin Je-yoon, the chairman of the Financial Services Commission (FSC), stressed that there is "no discrimination against foreign banks" concerning the sale.

"We'll announce the plan (of Woori sale) at the end of this month, and (we) don't have any intention to discriminate (against) foreign investors. We're open," he said in an interview with U.S. broadcasting channel CNBC Squawk Box Asia.

His remarks came as the FSC has been ramping up efforts to privatize Woori Finance, which was thwarted three times in the past years due to difficulties in finding an adequate investor to buy the banking giant with assets worth more than 300 trillion won (US$269.7 billion).

Shin, who took the helm of the FSC early this year after being appointed by President Park Geun-hye, has vowed to wrap up the Woori sale by 2014, with all viable options to be considered, saying he'll "stake" his job on it.

The government currently owns a 56.97 percent stake in Woori Finance after it injected 12.8 trillion won (US$11.32 billion) to save the group from near bankruptcy in the aftermath of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Shin spurned the implication that the Korean government has deliberately kept its currency cheaper to support exporters.

"We don't have any intention or a special target number for exchange rate. FX rate should be determined by the market. We'll take some actions if there are speculations." He refused to elaborate further, saying "It's not appropriate to say things about the foreign exchange market."

The question from CNBC came after chief economist Rhee Chang-yong at the Asia Development Bank, who also served his term as an FSC vice chairman in 2008-2009, sent a strong message through media that Korea should stop resorting to the foreign exchange rate as a means to help exporters keep afloat.

Rhee also said Seoul should not blame Tokyo for its currency devaluation, but learn from how they dealt with a strong yen for the past decade.

Asked what he thinks of Abenomics, he picked small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as most vulnerable to its policy impacts, and yen weakness will likely prompt carry trade in the bond market and could "induce a massive outflow of capital."

"It's early to judge but so far we didn't see any significant move in (large firms') exports. SMEs have some impacts and we're keeping a close look at the financial sector to real economy," he said.

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