SK Telecom’s latest bet for a stake in Hynix Semiconductor is not as reckless as the markets would like to believe.
The telecom company’s recent decision to bid for the world’s No.2 memory chipmaker was actually a plan devised by parent company SK Group to gain more leverage in the telecom and handset industry via memory technology, industry sources told The Korea Herald on Monday.
“SK knows that having memory chips would give its telecom business a big boost because it can then demand handset makers to use Hynix’s memory technology to ultimately raise its leverage and cut costs,” said one source, declining to be identified.
(From left) SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won, Hynix CEO Kwon Oh-chul
SK Telecom, the nation’s largest telecom company, purchases from handset manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple Inc. and LG to resell to consumers with call plans. Memory technology such as offered by Hynix is critical for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs.
SK currently does dabble in handset manufacturing via its subsidiary SKC, but to an insignificant extent.
On July 8, SK Telecom submitted a letter of intent, along with STX Group, to acquire a 15 percent stake in Hynix Semiconductor, expected to cost about 2.5 trillion won ($2.3 billion).
Sources dismissed concerns that Hynix would require excess amounts of investment, which was cited as the reason that other potential buyers decided against jumping into the race.
“This is a business that, if left alone, can continue to make money for SK Telecom, because the company is already pretty much developed in terms of memory,” said another industry watcher on the condition of anonymity.
Earlier, experts had said Hynix would require trillions of won over the next decade or so, mostly because it is a business that needs steady investment to fuel sustainable growth.
Hynix has been falling behind in terms of technological advancement, as it has failed to roll out en masse the thinner, more advanced 30-nano class memory chips.
But experts pointed out that unless Hynix seeks to span the yawning gap with Samsung Electronics, it will stay in “a comfortable place” for some time.
Hynix CEO Kwon Oh-chul earlier this year said Hynix would be increasing production of 30 nano class chips to 40 percent of its portfolio by the year’s end.
The firm currently relies mostly on the less-advanced 40-nano chips.
SK Telecom reportedly had been preparing the bid for quite some while, based on SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won’s beliefs that the company needs to diversify its business portfolio.
SK has so far been largely unsuccessful in most of its overseas ventures, mostly because of a lack of efficient strategies.
“I heard that Chey Tae-won was in China on many occasions, but he has not been able to forge effective ties, mainly because SK is unaware of the localized strategies it must resort to, especially in the areas of tightly-controlled markets such as telecom,” said one executive at a mid-sized Chinese business familiar with the situation.
In July last year, SK Group made an executive decision to gather together all of its Chinese operations under a single unit, SK China.
Despite the synergy effect that SK’s acquisition of Hynix may have, investors remained skeptical.
During July 5-12, SKT stocks slid by more than 10 percent.
Mirae Asset on Monday cut SKT’s target price to 165,000 won from 200,000 won.
Daishin Securities last week had slashed the target price by 15 percent to 200,000 won.
On Monday, SK Telecom stocks ended at 144,000 won, unchanged from Friday.
By Kim Ji-hyun
하이닉스 칩을 단말기에?
SK가 하이닉스 인수전에 뛰어든 진짜 이유
SK 텔레콤의 하이닉스 반도체 인수 배경에는 통신사업을 강화하겠다는 전략이 숨어있다고 업계 관계자들이 코리아 헤럴드에 전했다.
“SK그룹이 텔레콤을 통해 하이닉스를 인수해서 자회사가 되면, 향후에 단말기 업체에서 구입하는 단말기에는 하이닉스 메모리칩을 탑재할 수 있게 된다”고 한 관계자가 말했다.
이렇게 되면 가격절감도 하고, 결과적으로 경쟁사 칩 외에도 선택권이 넓어지면서 입김이 커질 수 밖에 없는 “일석삼조의 이치,” 라고 이 관계자는 전했다.
SK는 현재 SKC를 통해 단말기 제조를 하고 있기는 하지만 미미한 정도다.
SKT와 STX는 지난 7월8일 하이닉스 지분 15프로를 확보하기 위해 LOI를 제출했다.
현재 SK는 해외사업에서 이렇다 할 성과 없이 텔레콤과 에너지 사업에 기대고 있는 형편이다.
따라서 SK그룹은 해외사업 강화도 중요하지만, 텔레콤 사업에 더 큰 힘을 실어줄필요도 있는 것으로 판단했다는 분석이다.
이를 위해 SK는 이미 몇 년 전부터 하이닉스 인수를 위한 사전 정지 작업을 해왔다고 전해진다.
SK는 또한 향후 추가 비용 발생 부분에 대해서도 현재 정도의 기술을 유지한다면 문제가 되지 않는 것으로 인지하고 있다고 관계자들은 전했다.
현재 하이닉스는 30나노급 메모리 기술을 도입했지만 “의미있는” 양산규모는 연말이 되야한다고 말하고 있다.