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Korea sees inflation expand on hikes in public utility bills

Gas, electric charges hit record-high in October

Electric meters are seen at a residential district in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Electric meters are seen at a residential district in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
SEJONG -- South Korea’s consumer price growth, a key indication of inflation, posted a higher figure in October compared to the previous month in the wake of sharp hikes in public utility charges despite decelerated growth in energy prices, state data showed Wednesday.

According to Statistics Korea, consumer prices grew 5.7 percent on-year in October. This tied with the figure for August, and was higher than the 5.6 percent recorded in September.

Though consumer price growth somewhat decelerated compared to the 6 percent in June and 6.3 percent in July, the latest level was still quite high compared to October 2021, when the figure was at 3.2 percent.

Last month, public utility charges surged by 23.1 percent on-year due to a spike in electric and gas bills.

This far outpaced a 10.7 percent growth in prices of petroleum products, 8.9 percent in the prices of dining out, 6.3 percent in prices of industrial products and 5.2 percent in prices of agricultural, livestock and fisheries products.

Statistics Korea said in a statement that “prices of petroleum products (such as gasoline and diesel) have somewhat stabilized compared to a 16.6 percent growth in September.”

The state-run agency also highlighted the slowed growth in prices of agricultural, livestock and fisheries products compared to 6.2 percent in September.

But data showed that the 23.1 percent growth in public utility charges marked an all-time high since the nation started compiling relevant figures since January 2010.

Further, core inflation -- which excludes agricultural and petroleum products in consumer prices -- reached 4.8 percent, the highest level in more than 13 years since February 2009.

Core inflation shows the general trend of commodity prices as the index is calculated on the basis of excluding items with high volatility according to external or seasonal factors.

At a news briefing on the day, Statistics Korea Director General Eoh Un-sun also said higher consumer price growth in October compared to September was attributed to the accelerated growth in public utility charges.

However, he downplayed the possibility that consumer prices will exceed the 6 percent mark again in the coming months, saying that “(the nation’s inflation) could have peaked (in July).”

Nonetheless, the agency said there is “a possibility that consumer price growth will continue to stay at a high level for a considerable period of time, though inflation is projected to gradually decelerate.”

The agency cited external risks, including won-dollar exchange rate volatility and international prices of raw materials as the main uncertainties for future consumer prices.

Amid the global inflationary pressure during the normalization process from the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea’s consumer prices marked record-making growth this year.

After posting 3.6 percent in January, it rose to 4.1 percent in March, 5.4 percent in May and 6.3 percent in July despite a series of interest rate hikes from the Bank of Korea.

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

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