South Korea's finance minister and deputy prime minister has called upon the G8 for coordinated response to mitigate the impact of what Japan calls quantitative and qualitative easing.
Fat chance. For several years, Japan has been harangued to reflate the world's second largest economy. It appears to be finally doing so, and Prime Minister Abe is expected to unveil more details of his so-called third arrow (to compliment fiscal and monetary stimulus)of pro-growth structural reforms at midweek.
At the same time, the endorsement of Abenomics is and continues to be conditional. The IMF's Lipton last week noted that as a consequence of Japan's policies, the yen is slightly below levels consistent with the country's medium and longer-term economic fundamentals. There is a sense that the weaker yen is being tolerated as a necessary, though temporary, part of the reflation efforts. A recent poll conducted for Thomson Reuters found many Japanese businesses desire for a weaker yen has in fact been satiated.
While the yen has easily been the weakest Asian currencies over the past 12-month, losing almost a quarter of its value against the dollar, the Korean won has actually been the strongest, rising 4.4% against the greenback. But sympathy for Korea may be in short supply,. Over the past six months, the is the second weakest currency in Asia, weakening about 4% against the dollar, more than half of this was recorded in the month of May.
Moreover, at the end of last week, Korea reported an unexpectedly large May trade surplus, which at $6.03 bln, was more than twice the April surplus of $2.45 bln. South Korea's trade surplus in the first five months of 2013 stands at $14.1 bln, compared with $5.7 bln in the same period last year. The May surplus was the highest since Oct 2010 and suggest trade is contributing positively to Q2 GDP.
Exports are up 3.2% from a year ago as stronger demand from the US and China helped offset whatever currency competitive issue there may be. Mobile and telecom exports are up by nearly 2/3 from a year ago. Exports to China, its biggest trading partner are up 16.6%, while exports to the US are up 21.5%. Europe remains a weak link and exports are off 9.5% from a year ago.
Imports into South Korea are 4.8% lower than a year ago. The decline in May was in part a reflection of the decline in global energy prices and the shuttering of refinery capacity due to maintenance. Raw material imports slumped 15.2%, while imports of capital goods increase 6.2%, signaling strengthening capital investment. Consumer goods imports rose 0.7%.