SEJONG-- The number of holding companies in South Korea increased sharply this year from a year earlier amid government's efforts to encourage businesses to have more transparent and simpler shareholding structures, official data showed Thursday.

A total of 193 holding firms were registered with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the country's antitrust body, as of September this year, up from 162 tallied a year earlier.

It marked the largest on-year rise since the holding company system was introduced in 1999 under the fair trade law, said the FTC.

Also, the number of holding companies affiliated with large business groups on the FTC's watch list rose to 22 from eight over the one-year period.

Businesses with 5 trillion won (US$4.49 billion) or more in assets are subject to the watchdog's surveillance, while the FTC puts tighter restrictions on mutual investment and loan guarantees on bigger ones with assets of 10 trillion won or more.

The average assets of the 193 holding firms came to 1.4 trillion won in 2017, slightly down from 1.52 trillion won posted a year earlier. Their debt ratio averaged 38.4 percent this year, down from 40.2 percent.

Heads of conglomerates and their family members owned a combined stake of 57.7 percent on average in the holding companies, according to the FTC.

South Korea's conglomerates have been under fire for years, as they largely rely on controversial cross-shareholding arrangements among their affiliated companies to strengthen their owner families' control over the entire group.

The government has encouraged such big-name business groups to convert themselves into holding companies to resolve the cobweb-like family-run governance structure.

Source: Yonhap News Agency