Three of South Korea’s 10 largest export companies operate in the global automotive industry. Two Korean electronics industry players also rank among the Asian country’s top exporters, as do two Korean competitors from the oil and gas sector.
To give some contextual perspective on recent company performance, the overall value of South Korean exported products increased by 2.9% from US$526.9 billion in 2015 to $542.3 billion during 2019. From 2018 to 2019, exports from South Korea depreciated by -10.4%.
In the analysis below, we compare 10 of South Korea’s top export companies based on asset values, sales and profitability as of December 2019. Also presented is the Korean city where each business has its headquarters.
South Korea’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
Below are South Korea’s biggest export companies organized by asset value. Shown within parentheses is the primary industry in which each business operates. Also shown is the change in asset value as of December 2019 compared to one year earlier.
- Samsung Electronics (semiconductors): US$304.9 billion, up 4% from 2018
- Hyundai Motor (car/truck makers): $163.3 billion, down -0.9%
- Hanwha (products trader, explosives): $157.6 billion, up 5.3%
- SK Holdings (oil, gas): $114.2 billion, up 11.4%
- Posco (iron, steel): $67.6 billion, down -10.6%
- KIA Motors (car/truck makers): $45.8 billion, down -7.7%
- Hyundai Mobis (automotive parts): $38.7 billion, down -2.3%
- LG Electronics (consumer electronics): $37.4 billion, down -3.4%
- SK Innovation (iron, steel): $34.2 billion, up 6.9%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries (heavy equipment): $22.2 billion, down -21.8%
Four of the above export-oriented Korean businesses grew their asset values from 2018 to 2019, led by oil and gas firm SK Holdings (up 11.4%). Other gainers were SK Innovation (up 6.9%), Hanwha (up 5.3%) and Samsung Electronics (up 4%).
Leading the asset value decliners were Hyundai Heavy Industries (down -21.8%), iron and steel maker Posco (down -10.6%) and KIA Motors (down -7.7%).
Sales is the life blood of all business, an indisputable truth particularly for firms that compete in international trade. Six of South Korea’s largest export companies increased their year-over-year sales as of December 2019.
- Samsung Electronics: US$197.6 billion, down -12% from 2018
- Hyundai Motor: $90.5 billion, up 5.4%
- SK Holdings: $85.1 billion, up 3.2%
- Posco: $53.2 billion, down -3.8%
- LG Electronics: $52.5 billion, down -5.7%
- KIA Motors: $50.9 billion, up 6.3%
- Hanwha: $43.2 billion, down -3.1%
- SK Innovation: $42.8 billion, up 4.6%
- Hyundai Mobis: $31.9 billion, up 3.9%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries: $21.8 billion, up 77.2%
The top sales increases from 2018 to 2019 belong to Hyundai Heavy Industries (up 77.2%), KIA Motors (up 6.3%) and Hyundai Motor (up 5.4%).
The four sales decliners were Samsung Electronics (down -12%), LG Electronics (down -5.7%), iron and steel maker Posco (down -3.8%) and products trader including explosives Hanwha (down -3.1%).
Two of South Korea’s 10 major export companies posted losses as of December 2019 namely SK Innovation and Hyundai Heavy Industries.
- Samsung Electronics: US$18.4 billion, down -55.1% from 2018
- Hyundai Motor: $2.3 billion, down -23.3%
- Hyundai Mobis: $1.8 billion, up 63.6%
- Posco: $1.3 billion, down -50%
- KIA Motors: $1.2 billion, up 110.2%
- Hanwha: $771 million, up 114.8%
- SK Holdings: $615.1 million, down -59%
- LG Electronics: $410.7 million, down -72.6%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries: -$217.7 million, down -60.7%
- SK Innovation: -$306 million, reversing a $1.9 million profit
Three of these Korean multinationals managed to boost their bottom-line black ink by significant percentages from 2018 to 2019. In first place was Hanwha via its 114.8% profit improvement trailed by KIA Motors (up 110.2%) and Hyundai Mobis (up 63.6%).
In addition to SK Innovation’s profit-reversal, the greatest shrinkage among South Korea’s top export companies belongs to LG Electronics (down -72.6%), SK Holdings (down -59%), Samsung Electronics (down -55.1%) and Posco (down -50%).
Ten of South Korea’s major export companies are listed below in ascending order. Seven of these have their headquarters located in the East Asian country’s capital city, Seoul.
- Hanwha: Seoul
- Hyundai Heavy Industries: Ulsan
- Hyundai Mobis: Seoul
- Hyundai Motor: Seoul
- KIA Motors: Seoul
- LG Electronics: Seoul
- Posco: Pohang
- Samsung Electronics: Suwon
- SK Holdings: Seoul
- SK Innovation: Seoul
Note: Some of the above company offerings may include products other than the principal category shown within parenthesis under the Assets tab.
For example, SK Holdings not only distributes natural gas but also provides information technology services, architecture and civil engineering services. In addition, SK Holdings makes petrochemicals and develops biopharmaceuticals.
Besides making iron and steel products, Posco designs industrial plants, civil engineering projects as well as commercial and residential buildings.
See also South Korea’s Top 10 Exports, South Korea’s Top 10 Imports and Top South Korean Trade Balances
Forbes Global 2000 individual company profiles, Example of top Korean company compiled for this study: Samsung Electronics. Accessed on August 26, 2020
Forbes Global 2000 rankings (South Korean company listing), The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on August 26, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on August 26, 2020
Wikipedia, Category: Companies of South Korea. Accessed on August 26, 2020
Wikipedia, List of companies of South Korea. Accessed on August 26, 2020