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Seoul sweats over U.S. tapering

Financial authority warns of foreigners pulling out money despite Korea’s strong fundamentals

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Published : 2014-02-02 19:51
Updated : 2014-02-02 19:51

The nation’s chief financial supervisor on Sunday raised the possibility of Korea becoming susceptible to aftershocks from U.S. tapering policies that has served a heavy blow to the world’s emerging economies.

“Korea could be infected by a second round of woes in the wake of the (latest) financial crisis seen to be rising in some of the world’s more vulnerable emerging countries,” said Financial Services Commission Chairman Shin Je-yoon during a meeting of senior policymakers.

Shin presided over the meeting in a bid to map out countermeasures against tighter U.S. monetary policies involving the undisclosed agreement at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting last week. Participants included Financial Supervisory Service Gov. Choi Soo-hyun.

Comparing the current situation with the 1997 Asian currency crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, Shin raised the possibility of international investors pulling their funds out of the country “at once.”

While the FSC chief also echoed the views of the majority of private economists here who reiterate that Korea’s solid fundamentals would help weather the recent negative external factors, Shin stressed that the authorities “won’t rule out the feasibility” of the situation dealing a bigger-than-expected blow to Korea.

He also referred to a series of warnings to emerging countries from the International Monetary Fund and global investment banks urging contingency plans against U.S. tapering.

The FOMC has recently chosen to take a stronger stance toward a gradual hike in U.S. interest rates. In its latest December meeting, the committee said this was because the U.S. economy has “picked up” in recent quarters. Previously in October, the committee had said that economic activity was expanding at a “moderate pace.”

Market insiders now predict that the committee’s January meeting would contain stronger confirmation of a U.S. economic recovery. The minutes will be publicized a few weeks from now.

Back home in Korea, all eyes are on how Korea’s main bourse, the KOSPI, will behave on the first trading day of February on Monday. That is, whether foreign investors will continue to be net sellers, as they were last week.

The authorities are also closely looking at the won-dollar exchange market as the Korean currency is fast losing ground against the greenback. Inspectors at the FSS ― in coordination with the Bank of Korea ― are rolling up their sleeves to crack down on fraudulent foreign exchange trading.

Argentina, Brazil and Turkey recently saw their respective currency sharply depreciate against the U.S. dollar.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)

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