“Korea has a nasty habit of denying the existence of a problem, which actually feeds the problem and makes it bigger. Only when the problem bloats to a point where it could blow up for everyone to see will bureaucrats budge and throw an enormous amount of taxpayer money at it to extinguish the threat. I think this is happening with the household debt situation,’’ said Gongpil Choi, senior economist at the state-run Korea Institute of Finance (KIF), in a recent telephone conversation.
The core of the problem, he says, is that around 80 percent of Korea’s private-owned assets are in real estate.
To restore the health in consumer activity, it is critical to convert real estate assets into buying power, Choi said. However, property market fragility and precarious family finances suggest that households may not have the mettle to withstand a process of deleveraging.
“The deleveraging could trigger a dramatic fall in asset values, which then may paralyze the country’s financial system and batter the real economy into a long-term recession. The negative feedback on asset holders will be significant and the implosion could result in a wealth polarization much worse than the actual difference in income,’’ Choi said.
To combat the disastrous vortex of softening economic activity and spiraling debt, Korea is in desperate need of political honesty.
Korea Times, 14 October 2012