November 11, 2014 / 3:33 AM / 3 years ago

Hyundai, Kia unveil share buybacks after anger over property purchase

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The Hyundai logo is seen outside a Hyundai car dealer in Golden, Colorado, November 3, 2014.Rick Wilking

SEOUL (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) and affiliate Kia Motors (000270.KS) unveiled share buybacks worth a combined 670 billion won ($615 million), in an apparent bid to appease investors angered by the sky-high price paid for property to house new headquarters.

The move represents Hyundai's first share buyback specifically aimed at enhancing shareholder value in nearly a decade and Kia's first ever, and follows announcements by the companies last month that they will consider interim dividends for the first time.

It has also boosted hopes that other Korean conglomerates will embark on more shareholder-friendly measures.

Seoul-listed stocks tend to trade at discounts to shares elsewhere partly due to low dividends and investor worries about corporate governance. The government is considering taxes on large corporate cash piles to increase dividends and investment.

"Since Hyundai has now rolled up its sleeves, we expect it to get on with more shareholder returns such as dividends," Kim Yong-goo, a market analyst at Samsung Securities.

"This may be a turning point for shareholder policy at Korean companies," he said.

Hyundai Motor's stock ended 5.7 percent higher but has still lost about a fifth of its value since news broke that it, Kia and parts affiliate Hyundai Mobis (012330.KS) had bid $10 billion for a new headquarters site in Seoul's high-end Gangnam district, more than triple the appraisal amount.

Kia Motors climbed 2 percent and is about 6 percent off the level seen before the Sept. 18 news of the property bid.

Hyundai said it would buy back 449 billion won worth of common and preferred shares, while Kia also said it would repurchase stock worth 220.9 billion won. Both buybacks are equivalent to 1 percent of the automakers' outstanding shares.

The share repurchase programs, which will be completed by Feb. 11, aim “to enhance shareholder value by stabilizing share prices,” the companies said in separate regulatory filings.

While buyback plans earmarked for rewarding employees are not uncommon, Hyundai's only other buyback aimed at rewarding shareholders was in 2005, regulatory filings show.

Kia also said on Tuesday that company president Park Han-woo would become co-CEO. Hank Lee is the other CEO. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the reason for the promotion.

Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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