Published : 2013-01-24 20:13
Updated : 2013-01-24 20:13
Most of the nation’s conglomerates have not yet fixed their investment plans for this year, as they are still trying to sort out uncertainties over future currency fluctuations and economic policies to be taken by the incoming administration. The 10 largest business groups, except for LG, which announced on Jan. 5 it would invest 20 trillion won ($18.7 billion) in 2013, have delayed disclosing their plans, which usually came in mid-January in past years.
Samsung, the biggest conglomerate, put forward its annual investment plan on Jan. 17 last year. The group, however, has yet to set a date for revealing this year’s plan, which has been drawing keen attention since its chairman Lee Kun-hee suggested early this month he intended to increase investment as much as possible.
The steep rise in the value of the Korean currency against the dollar and the yen in recent months amid a prolonged global economic slowdown has made it difficult for corporate executives to finalize their business targets for this year. They are also waiting for the concrete shaping of the policies envisioned by President-elect Park Geun-hye’s transition committee, which are supposed to focus on striking a balance between large conglomerates and small enterprises.
With big businesses delaying yearly spending schemes, their suppliers and other subcontractors have been also forced to shelve their business plans, which should have been drawn up at year end.
In the face of volatile business environments, it may be somewhat inevitable for companies to postpone their spending plan announcements. Still, it is hoped that they will disclose the plans as soon as possible, with the amount of investment being larger than ever.
It is time for large companies to increase spending to employ more workers and hike their wages to help boost the sluggish economy, especially through stimulating local demand. A recent report from the central bank should be an eye-opener for the main reason behind the country’s decelerating growth and the need for a corporate role in lifting it up.
Household income growth has lagged far behind the gain in corporate earnings over the past two decades. According to the report released by the Bank of Korea, households’ share of the gross national income shrank from 71.5 percent in 1990 to 61.6 percent in 2011, with the chunk taken by companies increasing from 16.1 percent to 24.1 percent over the cited period. Since 2000, household income has grown at an annual average of 5.8 percent, far below the corporate earnings growth rate of 10.5 percent.
Consequently, households’ share of GNI in Korea remains at the bottom of the 25 surveyed member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development except for Luxembourg and Norway. With their income growing slowly, households have heaped up debts, the amount of which stood at 937.5 trillion won as of the end of last September. The sum was equivalent to about 70 percent of the country’s 2011 gross domestic product. Recent data from the Financial Supervisory Service showed the delinquency ratio of household debt had climbed in recent years, reflecting their increasing economic hardships.
To help put the slowing economy on the road to sustainable growth, measures should be urgently taken to increase households’ proportion of national income, which is more than 10 percent lower than in major industrialized countries. The incoming government is planning to reinvigorate the economy by strengthening support for small businesses and the service sector and developing new growth engines propelled by information and communications technologies.
But the most effective way may be to ensure that a bigger part of corporate earnings will be funneled to households through investment, employment and payment. This implies conglomerates, which have accumulated cash over the years since the economic crisis in 2007-08, should redouble efforts to find new growth opportunities. It would also serve the interests of large conglomerates to make the economic structure less vulnerable to external impacts by letting extra cash flow to households, which spend more than 97 percent of their disposable income, but whose spending still falls short of 60 percent of gross domestic product.