More than 100 smaller firms in South Korea could face debt restructuring this year on consecutive defaults by some large enterprises, the highest tally since the 2008 global financial turmoil, sources from creditor banks said Monday.
The Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) and creditor banks are in the final stage of drawing up a list of corporate debtors from 1,100 small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which owe banks loans worth no more than 50 billion won (US$46.7 million), the FSS and bank officials with knowledge in the matter said.
They have been reviewing their credit risks to select those subject to either a creditor-led debt workout, for which it will be given a "C" grade, or court receivership, which is graded as "D," with the list for 2013 to be announced by the end of next month.
Last year, the FSS picked 97 firms.
For this year, the number of highly indebted SMEs will easily surpass that of last year, because a few large firms have collapsed on liquidity shortages, the officials said.
"In the aftermath of Tong Yang and STX crises, along with a bad property market, it's likely that the heavy debtors from SMEs will number over 100," one official said, asking not to be named.
In that case, it will be the highest tally since 2010, when a total of 121 SMEs were placed under a restructuring, following the global financial crisis in 2008, the official added.
Since late September, South Korea has been rattled by the collapse of Tong Yang Group, the 38th-largest conglomerate in the country, as five of its units filed for court receivership after weeks of trying to avert a default.
The Tong Yang case came less than six months after STX Group, South Korea's 13th-biggest firm, went under debt restructuring after failing to deal with a liquidity squeeze amid the protracted downturn in the global shipping and shipbuilding sectors.
As a lot of the SMEs have had business ties with larger companies -- either in the form of a subcontractor or an affiliate -- the consecutive defaults by big firms may also have eroded the financial health of smaller businesses, the FSS said.
The consecutive corporate failures have resulted in another spate of bankruptcies among the subcontractors, costing investors heavy losses and people their jobs.
In September last year, major South Korean builder Kukdong Engineering & Construction Co. and its holding company Woongjin Holdings Co. also filed for court receivership.
Creditor banks pointed out that aggressive government support for SMEs, led by President Park Geun-hye, is cited as part of the reason that more smaller firms will be added to the heavy debtors list.
Local banks have expanded lending to smaller businesses in line with the policy, with the amount of fresh SME loans reaching 27.7 trillion won in the January-August period, almost equivalent to that in all of 2012.
The financial regulator is expected to soon roll out measures aimed at helping SMEs ease their financial burdens so as to minimize losses from larger firms' liquidity shortage.