Capitalism with South Korean characteristics
'Preferred Stocks' offer attractive yields for short- to medium-term investors — and bigger payoffs in the long term
One of the features of capitalism in South Korea is that a handful of large conglomerates – chaebol – account for a disproportionate share of GDP and financial markets. The families that run Samsung, Hyundai, and other chaebol use of all manner of devices, such as cross-shareholdings between subsidiaries, that allow them to retain control despite only owning, for instance, five or ten percent of outstanding shares.
As a result, the South Korean stock market has more than a hundred examples of listed non-voting shares, known as “Preferred Stock” (우선주).
The same phenomenon can be seen stateside. Investors in tech giant Alphabet (still known to everyone else as Google) are sometimes surprised to learn that the company has two different classes of Nasdaq-listed stock available to trade. The two even go for slightly different prices – at the time of writing, one share of ‘GOOG’ costs $2313.20, and ‘GOOGL’ fetches $2314.93.
This is because GOOGL comes with voting rights, and GOOG does not. This structure has been in place since 2014 to allow Google’s co-founders to retain control of the company even though they are no longer majority shareholders. For most investors, who of course have neither the inclination or means to influence who runs Alphabet and how, GOOG and GOOGL are exactly the same in practical terms. Resultingly the price differential between the two is less than one-tenth of one percent, so small as to be almost insignificant.Gangnam is one of Seoul’s main financial centers | Image: Wikimedia Commons
Meanwhile in South Korea, Preferreds began to grow in popularity in the 1980s and 90s, when many large Korean chaebols were required to reduce their debt loads. One obvious way to do that ensuring control for the families at the top of these groups was
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