Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Last Three Weeks in Korea - Girls, Marines, & Dodgers

1. National
1) Girls’ Generation debut in the U.S.
Korean pop group Girls’ Generation made their U.S. debut by appearing on CBS’ David Letterman Show and ABC’s “Live!with Kelly”, creating a big buzz. The band’s performance of the English version of the “The Boys” on David Letterman show was met with enthusiasm from the U.S. fans. The video clip from the show received over 710,000 hits in just two days. More meaningful as it was Letterman’s 30th anniversary for his show on Jan 31 when the Korean girls wowed the old man. The Wall Street Journal described the Korean girls’ appearance in the David Letterman’s show as “inroad by K-pop in the U.S. market.”
The two industries most lopsided in trade in favor of the U.S. are aviation industry, and entertainment. Most of the Koreans well know Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston or Tom Cruise, but how many Americans have heard of Cho Yongpil, Lee Mija, or Jang Dongkun? The Girls’ Generation were the first Korean entertainers featured in major U.S. TV stations to my memory, and many hope it would be the beginning of the correction of entertainment imbalance between the two countries.

2) U.S. Marines to be deployed in Korea
The U.S. has its Army, Air Force and Navy in Korea, but not Marines. This may change as a South Korean official said the U.S. has wanted to deploy some of the 8,000 marines and their families from Okinawa to Korea on a rotating basis. Korean government is worried about the opposition from China and North Korea as well as from some South Koreans, mostly because the marines are usually for attack instead of defense, even though it believes that the U.S. marines can play a major role in an emergency in Korean peninsula.

Korean marines are as tough and brutal as U.S. marines, thus keep strong pride in being a marine. As “Once a marine is a marine forever” is one of their favorite mottos, I asked two of my ex-marine managers if they would like to rejoin marines. F words came out of their mouth immediately. (See if you can find the two ex-MKL managers in the picture.)

2. Economy
1) A Korean firm interested in buying L.A. Dodgers
Korea’s E-Land Group has announced that it plans to buy L.A. Dodgers. According to market insiders, E-Land formed a consortium with Former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, Joe Torre, the former manager of N.Y. Yankees, and Magic Johnson. E-Land plans to invest $100 million in the deal. L.A. Dodgers is put out for sale as the current owner Frank McCourt needs some cash for his divorce settlement. E-Land is interested in Dodgers as it is the most loved baseball team to Koreans. Chanho Park, Korea’s first major leaguer, spent seven years there from 1994 to 2001. Los Angeles is the city with most Koreans in the U.S.

E-Land started its business in 1980, by opening a small 6 sqm clothing shop near E-Hwa Women’s university in Seoul. Its business has now grown to 8.7 trillion won ($7.9 billion won) in sales in 2011. Its original name was England, but changed to E-Land due to restriction on trademark registration. Just in case you might wonder whether E-Land is a Korean version of RE/MAX.

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai Mobis to supply GM and Chrysler
Hyundai Mobis has signed contracts worth $1.07 billion with GM and Chrysler. This is the 2nd largest amount Mobis signed with foreign automakers. Mobis will supply GM with integrated center stack system, a key component that controls multimedia terminals in the vehicle. It will supply LED tail lights to Chrysler. A Mobis executive said Mobis scored highly in the price-performance ratio of their products in an open bid against giants like Delphi. Mobis has supplied part to Daimler (audio systems and batter sensors), BMW(tail lights), Mitsubishi and Subaru (lamps) and GM (Parking brakes). The biggest contract Mobis signed for foreign automakers was for chassis modules worth $2 billion for Chrysler in 2009.

Who would have more say? HMC is the largest customer for Mobis, but Mobis is the largest shareholder of HMC with 21% ownership. Not all HMC suppliers have to say “how high?”

2) LG Group into automobile business?
With electric vehicles regarded as the future of auto industry, LG Group, Korea’s third largest Chaebol after Samsung and Hyundai, is considering making inroad into the auto business. LG Chemical is making investment to capture 25% of the battery market for electric vehicles, with the opening of its U.S plant in Michigan. V-ENS, a subsidiary of LG CNS, plans to build an electric vehicle component R&D center in Incheon by the end of this year. LG U Plus started car infortainment solution development, and LIG has begun to reinforce its auto insurance and vehicle repair business. Hyundai is apparently not very happy with the activities LG is unfolding. Hyundai decided to use SK batteries for its new Ray hybrid model, instead of LG batteries used in Sonata and Optima hybrid.
The group name LG was formed in 1995 to combine Lucky Chemicals, and Goldstar, an electronics company. Who knows. LG Chairman Mr. Koo might get a lucky and hit gold in auto business.


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