Foreign investors’ stock selling spree — while not surprising — is sending a cold wind as freezing as the weather through financial markets and ringing alarm bells in the Korean economy.
Overseas investors kept dumping shares this week, breaking the 33-day selling streak record set in June and July 2008. Traders and analysts blame fears over, among other things, uncertainty in the Chinese economy and low oil prices.
Stock markets are supposed to see investors come and go, depending on many factors, but the problem is that external conditions may worsen and force overseas investors to pull their funds out of the country.
Of course, we need to guard against excessive pessimism and a sense of crisis, especially given that the nation has ample foreign exchange reserves and a healthy fiscal status.
But the country faces too many serious risks. The fragility of some emerging economies and the slowdown of oil-exporting countries — some oil money-supported funds are pulling investments from the Korean stock market — and China are the most pressing concerns.
The lifting of international sanctions on Iran should add to the woes in the oil market, as it is almost certain to increase the crude oil supply. China saw its gross domestic product growth limited to 6.9 percent last year, the lowest in 25 years. It is apparent that the destination of a quarter of Korea’s outside shipments is cooling down.
Domestic problems abound, too. Exports are contracting and slumps in major industries like steel, shipbuilding and shipping, are casting dark clouds over the economy. The level of corporate and household debt keeps swelling and there are more marginal firms than ever, as young people still struggle with a weak job market and high unemployment.
A bigger cause for concern is that the people who were entrusted to deal with these challenges are not doing their job properly. One need look no further than the National Assembly, where crucial labor reform bills and economy-boosting bills are stuck in a partisan standoff.
The recent breakup of the grand social compromise reached by the tripartite committee of government, labor and management last September is one more piece in a string of evidence that this country dares to commit follies that could bring a crisis.
What’s more worrisome is that the fast approaching general election — certain to become a bellwether of the next presidential election in 2017 — may overshadow the all-important national task of reinvigorating the economy and taking preemptive measures to avert a crisis.
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