The Other Korea

North Korea has a land mass and population roughly equivalent to New York State and a nominal GDP roughly equivalent to greater Buffalo (i.e. Erie County). Its main exports are 19th-century staples, iron ore and coal.

South Korea has a smaller land mass, but twice the population and a GDP roughly equivalent to all of the Empire State. Among its major exports are high-tech electronics and automobiles.

North Korea has been in the news regularly recently due to its wild threats of senseless violence, such as annihilating Guam with a nuclear missile. In the meantime, their more stable neighbor to the south has been making news of an altogether more positive sort. The chart below, from the Financial Times, shows the six-month performance of the Korean Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), up over 18% for the year.

North Korea is held hostage by the ruling family and its cronies, a generally horrid bunch with an abysmal record on human rights. South Korea has its own peculiar politics but usually resolves its problems peacefully. In May, former President Park Geun-hye was impeached in a corruption scandal, the result of which was a boost in both consumer and business sentiments.

On the international front, in addition to dealing with the bellicose neighbor on its northern border, South Korea is currently trying to balance its relations with two of its largest trading partners, the United States and China. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (or THAAD) missile system backed by the United States seems to have affected Seoul’s relationship with China, which has, pointedly, cut its imports of South Korean goods in response.

Notwithstanding discord with China, the outlook for South Korean companies remains bright. According to Market Realist, new manufacturing work orders reached a 14-month high in June and signaled further economic expansion. Recent weakness in Chinese demand has been more than offset by demand from Japan, the United States, and the Middle East. Rising commodity prices have been sufficiently offset by a stronger currency. Business confidence indicators reported by the Central Bank of Korea are steady and higher now than they were at the beginning of the year. South Koreans apparently believe that civilization will persist on their peninsula for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding noises to the contrary from the north.

About Chris Donnelly

Christopher J. Donnelly, is an experienced attorney, bond analyst and fixed income strategist, with years of experience in structured finance, distressed bonds and bond related litigation in a variety of industries and the emerging markets. He is a graduate of Rutgers University (BA), The University of Pennsylvania (JD) and New York University, (LLM in Taxation). Chris is a Managing Director of Straacom, LLC and can be contacted at cdonnelly@straacom.com. Straacom provides strategic research, analysis and communications for publication and on assignment for private clients.

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