1. NORTH KOREA’S NEXT MOVE: North Korea could decide to initiate provocative acts in 2014, including the early part of the new year. The months of January and February are particularly noteworthy, since these months include dates commemorating the birth of both of the DPRK’s former leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Precedent also exists for such provocative acts. Earlier this year (in 2013), North Korea also tested its nuclear weapons technology at the start of the Chinese New Year, which both Koreas recognize and celebrate. Although the financial markets generally have not overreacted to North Korea’s often purposely provocative acts, given the high inter-linkage of the Asian markets, an unexpected known-unknown black swan event could lead to market surprise to the downside.
2. BANK OF KOREA’S (BOK) KEY RATE HIKE: the BOK has left its key rate steady at 2.75% for seven consecutive months, as the local economy is showing signs of a moderate recovery amid tame inflation.But the BOK is likely to increase its rate in 2014. The BOK’s decision to keep its rate steady at the end of 2013 came as a set of data pointed to a moderate recovery of the Korean economy while the timing of the Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus tapering still remains uncertain. The South Korean economy grew 1.1% on-quarter in the third quarter, the same pace as in the second quarter, on improving domestic demand and a pickup in facility investment. The country’s industrial output grew 1.8% on-month in October, the fastest gain in 11 months, indicating that the economy might be picking up. South Korea’s inflationary pressure remains subdued as consumer prices are running below the BOK’s 2.5-3.5% inflation target band for the 18th straight month in November. The on-year growth of consumer inflation picked up to 0.9% in November from 0.7% in October.
3. REAL ESTATE AND CONSUMER DEBT MAY MOVE UPWARDS: The South Korean real estate market has been relatively static in 2013. But a pick up in the real estate market could occur based on relaxed policies in 2014. This potential positive upward movement in the nation’s residential real estate market, however, must also be managed with the nation’s burgeoning consumer debt levels. A survey of 20,000 households conducted jointly by the Bank of Korea (BOK), Statistics Korea and the Financial Services Commission showed households had an average debt of 58.1 million won ($55,000) in March, up 6.8% from the previous year. The debt of those households in the lowest-income group rose 24%, from 10 million to 12.4 million won, while the other groups, not including the richest, saw their average debt increase between 9.7 and 16.3%. Of households in debt, 8.1 percent said they may not be able to repay the money they owe, up from last year’s 7%. The survey showed that the lower a household’s income level, the higher the ratio of people who said repayment was unlikely.
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