Won decline was surprise
January 3, 2009
Predicting most worldwide foreign currency trends is, at best, an educated game of darts.
Predicting the Korean won’s value against the dollar in 2009 is more like trying to throw a bull’s-eye in a dark room while a bullet train speeds by outside.
On Nov. 24, the currency slipped to 1,512 won to $1, a 38 percent drop since Jan. 2.
Stars and Stripes spoke to several economists covering the exchange rates during the year, and none saw that coming. In a March 24 story, one economist saw the won’s drop to 982-to-1 as an excessive fall that would correct itself by the end of the year.
In the last days of the year, the won was at 1,306 per dollar, but most economists agree the value gyrations haven’t stopped.
"It has turned impossible to predict correctly in the foreign currency exchange market," said Kim Young-san, of the Hana Institute of Finance. "However, it is very hard to expect the won to be stabilized in the first half of the next year."
In terms of comparative purchasing power, the won was actually undervalued before it plummeted, according to the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit.
For example, when dollars were exchanged for won, it had cost about 12 percent more to buy the same product in South Korea that could be bought in the United States.
However, global investors had bigger concerns than purchasing power parity. As the economy deteriorated, they pulled their stakes out of emerging economies like South Korea and cashed them in for dollars, yen and other established currencies.
That sell-off has flooded the market with won and gloomy economic forecasts haven’t given currency traders much hope in the near-term.
The won’s recent, modest rebound is a correction that could reverse itself in January, Kim said.
Na Jung-hyeok, an economist with the Daishin Economic Research Institute, attributed the rebound to U.S. attempts to increase its supply of dollars available for lending.
Na is slightly optimistic about the won’s chances in 2009. If the new Obama administration and the U.S. Federal Reserve continue to promote a looser U.S. money supply as a remedy for the ailing economy, the dollar could weaken against the won through the first half of 2009.
The won’s fall has benefited servicemembers who shop heavily off-post, since goods and services are now much cheaper than they were at the beginning of the year.
However, those stationed there have suffered drops in their cost-of-living allowances — a tax-free supplement on top of their salaries. The allowance no longer exists in most areas.