Considering the depth and breadth of the global recession, one might look favorably on a mere 1% contraction of the South Korean economy for calendar year 2009. Lo and behold, though, some folks are already revising South Korea ‘09 higher.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, a forecasting group that is frequently cited in the magazine, The Economist, the country may actually have expanded 0.6% across the 12 months. Here, then, is another sizable economy that recovered quickly, joining the respective economies of China, India and Australia.
While the U.S. economy deals with ”L"s, “W"s and square root shapes, South Korea has more than its share of positives. For instance, it is one of a select few countries with positive percentage gains in “industrial production” with an astonishing 11% growth rate (September).
Granted, ”industrial production” is only a portion of GDP; specifically, it accounts for the output in manufacturing, mining, and utilities. Nevertheless, it is a popular economic metric for the forecasting of future well-being.
And there’s more.
South Korea’s currency has been weak enough to help the export-dependent country, but not so weak as to arouse the ire of its neighbors. (The Chinese yuan’s weakness is seen as a far bigger fish in need of frying.)
Moreover, much like the U.S. Federal Reserve, the South Korean Ministry of Finance is not yet signaling a change in interest rate policy, so there’s plenty of stimulus keeping South Korea on track. Unlike the U.S., however, South Korea is near full employment and its country’s deficit spending isn’t causing worldwide alarm.
Unfortunately, there’s only one pure South Korea ETF and… 20% of the iShares South Korea (EWY) belongs to Samsung Electronics. Single country ETFs frequently have too much riding on the success (or lack thereof) of one company. That’s why I tend to favor getting regional exposure to Asia through a fund like iShares MSCI Asia excl Japan (AAXJ).
AAXJ has 20% in South Korea… but you also get a fair bit of China, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan. AAXJ has less volume, which can be tricky for some traders. Yet regional diversification is important enough to justify paying a bit more in annualized expense and/or price execution.
Full Disclosure: Gary Gordon, MS, CFP is the president of Pacific Park Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC. The company may hold positions in the ETFs, mutual funds and/or index funds mentioned above.