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 10 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 exports increased by 5.6% from US$573.1 billion in 2014 to $605.2 billion during 2018.
In the analysis below, we compare 10 of South Korea’s top export companies based on asset values, sales and profitability as of December 2018. 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 2018 compared to May 2017.
- Samsung Electronics (semiconductors): US$293.2 billion, up 35.1% from 2017
- Hyundai Motor (car/truck makers): $164.7 billion, up 11.2%
- Hanwha (products trading, explosives): $149.6 billion, up 16.7%
- SK Holdings (oil, gas): $102.5 billion, up 20.2%
- Posco (iron, steel): $75.6 billion, up 14.5%
- KIA Motors (car/truck makers): $49.6 billion, up 17.8%
- Hyundai Mobis (automotive parts): $39.6 billion, up 14.8%
- LG Electronics (consumer electronics): $38.7 billion, up 23.6%
- SK Innovation (iron, steel): $32 billion, up 18.5%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries (heavy equipment): $28.4 billion, down -30.4%
Nine of these export-oriented Korean businesses grew their asset values from May 2017 to December 2018, led by Samsung Electronics and its 35.1% capital growth. LG Electronics (up 23.6%) also posted a respectable gain trailed by SK Holdings (up 20.2%), iron and steel maker SK Innovation (up 18.5%) then KIA Motors (up 17.8%).
The sole decliner in terms of asset value was Hyundai Heavy Industries via its -30.4% shrinkage.
Sales is the life blood of all business, an indisputable truth particularly for firms that compete in international trade. Eight of South Korea’s largest export companies increased their year-over-year sales as of December 2018.
- Samsung Electronics: US$224.6 billion, up 29.1% from 2017
- Hyundai Motor: $85.9 billion, up 6.4%
- SK Holdings: $82.5 billion, up 14.4%
- LG Electronics: $55.7 billion, up 16.8%
- Posco: $55.3 billion, up 20.7%
- KIA Motors: $47.9 billion, up 5.5%
- Hanwha: $44.6 billion, up 9.9%
- SK Innovation: $40.9 billion, up 19.9%
- Hyundai Mobis: $30.7 billion, down -7%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries: $12.3 billion, down -63.7%
Samsung Electronics recorded a healthy 29.1% increase in sales. In second place was Posco (up 20.7%) followed by another iron and steel maker SK Innovation (up 19.9%), LG Electronics (up 16.8%) then oil and gas industry player SK Holdings (up 14.4%).
The two sales decliners were Hyundai Heavy Industries (down -63.7%) and automotive parts supplier Hyundai Mobis (down -7%).
All but one of South Korea’s 10 major export companies were profitable as of December 2018.
- Samsung Electronics: US$41 billion, up 112.2% from 2017
- Hyundai Motor: $3 billion, down -36.2%
- Posco: $2.6 billion, up 136.4%
- SK Innovation: $1.9 billion, up 35.7%
- SK Holdings: $1.5 billion, up 127.3%
- LG Electronics: $1.5 billion, up 2,173%
- Hyundai Mobis: $1.1 billion, down -57.7%
- KIA Motors: $571 million, down -76.2%
- Hanwha: $359 million, down -15.3%
- Hyundai Heavy Industries: -$554 million, reversing a $452 million profit
Four of these Korean multinationals managed to boost their bottom-line black ink by double-digits as of the latest December 2018 period. In first place was LG Electronics via a formidable 2,173% profit improvement followed by Posco (up 136.4%), SK Holdings (up 127.3%) then Samsung Electronics (up 112.2%).
In addition to Hyundai Heavy Industries’ profit-reversal, four Korean companies saw their profits whittled down as of December 2018. Leading the losers was KIA Motors (down -76.2%), automotive parts supplier Hyundai Mobis (down -57.7%), Hyundai Motor (down -36.2%) then products trader and explosives maker Hanwha (down -15.3%).
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 October 1, 2019
Forbes Global 2000 rankings (South Korean company listing), The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on October 1, 2019
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on October 1, 2019
Wikipedia, Category: Companies of South Korea. Accessed on October 1, 2019
Wikipedia, List of companies of South Korea. Accessed on October 1, 2019