Countries go through fads just like anything else, and right now South Korea is hot.
From that Samsung Galaxy III in your hand to the Hyundai or Kia you drove to work, from the K-Pop music in your head and the Gangnam Style dancing on your feet, South Korea today is as cool today as England was in the "Cool Britannia" days of 1997. And the hottest Japanese company today, Softbank? CEO Masayoshi Son is of Korean heritage.
But if you're interested in playing this trend through an ETF like the iShares South Korean Index (NYSEARCA:EWY), consider playing it short. Fads fade, to be replaced by new fads, and playing any fad at its top is a mug's game.
Korea's domestic growth will be just 2.5% this year, according to the country's own National Assembly Budget Office. The country is reducing interest rates, fearing even slower growth due to weakness in its export markets.
On the global stage South Korea has emerged as an advocate of stimulus in the face of slowing growth in China and Brazil. The country is raising targets for reduced emissions and preparing for carbon trading in 2015.
Before leaving this story, it might be useful to ask why it happened. Like Singapore and Hong Kong, Korea is a small country with few natural resources, surrounded by traditional enemies, and locked in an intractable cold war with North Korea. That it has grown and prospered in the face of all this may just be proof that the highest pressure makes the hardest diamonds.
Since the bottom of the global recession in 2009, shares in EWY have nearly tripled in value, but they are currently in the process of rolling-over. Barring unforeseen good news, you can probably play this weakness to the area of $50/share, before global policymakers wake up to its message that austerity doesn't work, at which point I think you want to be long pending a thaw in the North, which may finally be tiring of being a global pariah.