Macquarie Funds Group and South KoreaÆs Samchully have jointly applied for an investment management license in Seoul, to launch a new business running portfolios of direct stakes in energy-related projects.

John Spence, division director at Macquarie in Hong Kong, has been selected to serve as CEO of the new joint venture and will transfer to Seoul when the license has been approved.

Although Macquarie is known for its infrastructure financings, this new JV is not about managing projects. Rather it will build a portfolio of stakes in, say, oil and gas fields or solar power plants. The JV will promote funds to institutional investors, initially in Korea. Later it hopes to market this to regional investors and perhaps retail investors, along the lines of environmentally themed funds it sells in Australia.

Samchully is a Korean importer and distributor of liquid natural gas, and has been invited by Korea National Oil Company and other state-linked groups to help tap energy-related investments. It also manufactures and distributes city gas through pipeline networks.

ôThe Korean government has a clear direction on building energy security, and we see public pension funds making long-term, strategic allocations to this area,ö says Spence.

He continues to look for further acquisition opportunities in asset management. Macquarie has been in discussion with US-based energy and infrastructure companies; an acquisition or partnership would allow it to expand its business model, provide liquidity to its investment structures, and gain additional expertise behind its fund products.

There are already a number of players in Korea trying to build similar investment portfolios.

Korea Investment Trust launched a Vietnam oil project fund in December 2006, a listed closed-end fund with 5.3 years of maturity. UBS Hana Asset Management launched an 11-year closed-end fund in September 2007 that invests in a nickel mine in Madagascar.

MyAsset launched a closed-end private fund in August 2008 that invests in production-stage oil and gas wells in Texas. And MAIA Asset Management is setting up a commodity fund to invest in the energy, mineral and agriculture sectors.

The Samchully JV, which was agreed in September, is the latest in a line of agreements for Macquarie in Korea. Macquarie Group has around 400 staff in the country along with a number of JVs involving different parts of the business. Macquarie Funds Group sold its stake in a local fund-management company, Macquarie-IMM, to Goldman Sachs in mid-2007, near the top of the market.

The A$45 billion ($29.2 billion) Macquarie Funds Group was formed in August 2008, combining the funds and fund-based structured products businesses within the entire groupÆs funds, equity markets and capital products divisions. The funds group is led by Sydney-based executive director Shemara Wikramanayake.