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[Editorial] Keep the guard up

[Editorial] Keep the guard up

QE tapering signals a shift in paradigm

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Published : 2013-12-20 20:01
Updated : 2013-12-20 20:01

In what has been dubbed the beginning of the end to quantitative easing, the U.S. Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it would reduce its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion starting in January.

The impact of the Fed’s move on the Korean market was mild, with no volatility observed in the stock and foreign exchange markets Thursday. This was probably because the move had been expected for so long that much of its potential impact had already been reflected in the markets.

Another reason, which is advanced by Hyun Oh-seok, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, and other Korean policymakers, is that Korea’s economic fundamentals are in good shape and that they set Korea apart from other emerging economies such as Brazil and India. The policymakers believe Korea will be shielded again this time, as it was in May when the Fed mentioned the forthcoming QE tapering.

At the time, emerging economies were dealt hard blows, with massive foreign capital flowing out of their markets. But Korea was an exception, with an influx of foreign funds pressuring the Korean currency to rise against the U.S. dollar.

Undoubtedly, many of Korea’s economic fundamentals are sound. Among them are the huge foreign exchange reserves and a current account surplus that is growing rapidly. Korea now holds $345 billion in its foreign exchange reserves. Moreover, it will have generated the largest-ever current account surplus this year.

Yet, Korea will feel the pinch when the QE tapering gets into full swing. Most vulnerable will be leveraged corporations and indebted households.

The Fed says it will continue to reduce its bond purchases at a measured pace through much of next year if jobs continue to gain in the United States. It adds that bond purchases will probably wind down late next year.

As the deputy prime minister puts it, the QE tapering signals a shift in paradigm, as the global financial market is set to move from a low-interest-rate mode into a high-interest-rate mode. Funds, set to reverse course, are now most likely to flow from emerging markets into advanced nations.

Should interest rates gain 1 percentage point, a news report says, 600 of the 1,500 listed non-financial companies will not earn enough to service their debts. An increase in interest rates will also place a big burden on households, whose combined debt has surpassed the 1,000 trillion won mark.

If Japan and the European Union, unlike the United States, continue their quantitative easing, it will have an adverse effect on Korean exports. The reason is that their currencies will fall relative to the Korean won.

Under these circumstances, Korea cannot afford to lower its guard against the QE tapering. It must be prepared to take preemptive action, if necessary.

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