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Koreans dig in their heels

They had to have the money, but no one bargains like the Koreans. So when the heavily downgraded republic was forced into the bond markets in mid-meltdown, Salomon and Goldman knew lead-managing the deal would be tough ... but not this tough. Steven Irvine reports.

"We gave our lead managers a very hard time." Kwon Tae-Shin, deputy director general of the ministry of finance and economy's international finance bureau, smiles as he describes the negotiations behind Korea's debt debut. Issuer and lead managers, Goldman Sachs and Salomon Smith Barney, clashed hard on everything from price to fee structures. All night meetings were common. One went on till 3.30am in the bowels of New York's Four Seasons Hotel just hours before the deal was to be launched.

This was no ordinary capital markets deal. The Republic's April $4 billion debut was make or break for Korea itself. "We had a responsibility to save our country," says Kwon. "If we failed then no Korean banks or companies would be able to go to the financial markets again. We might go into a second crisis." At the same time, MOFE faced enormous political pressure to ensure the deal was tightly priced and performed well after launch. Head of the Goldman team Carlos Cordeiro reflects: "Our challenge was: how tight could you drive the deal without it blowing up in your face?"

Running on empty

The story starts back in December. At this point Korea was running on empty with less than $6 billion in reserves and Seoul knew the country was in crisis.

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