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Daniel Moss, Columnist

A Surprise South Korean Boom Is Going Unnoticed

The country is riding an export bonanza courtesy of the US. But its citizens are not reaping the benefits. 

It’s more than just cultural exports.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
这不仅仅是文化输出。摄影师:SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

If only K-pop and cinema would get out of the way. South Korea has a ringside seat to the world economy, but struggles to get the attention it deserves. That's a pity because the view is promising and says much about upbeat global prospects. In some ways, developments are almost too positive.

The country is often overlooked relative to mighty neighbors Japan and China. South Korea has become more famous for cultural exports — and the ebb and flow of tensions with Pyongyang — than the key components of 21st century commerce that leave its ports in encouraging numbers. Growth is surging, largely on the strength of demand from abroad. The bulk of the credit goes to the resilience of the US economy, and, to a lesser degree, signs that China might be past the worst of its slowdown. Washington’s ringfencing of investments deserves a shoutout as well, given Seoul is a close American ally.

What could be wrong with this? There will be no relief on interest rates soon. This, too, is a reversal. The central bank laid down an early marker in August 2021, becoming the first industrialized economy to tighten, way ahead of the Federal Reserve and before neighborhood inflation obsessives like New Zealand. With the current bullish conditions, borrowing costs will be slow to retreat.
这可能有什么问题吗?利率不会很快得到缓解。这也是一种逆转。该央行于 2021 年 8 月制定了早期目标,成为第一个实施紧缩政策的工业化经济体,远远领先于美联储,也早于新西兰等邻国通胀痴迷者。在当前的看涨形势下,借贷成本将缓慢回落。

It didn't look that way a year ago; economists confidently predicted multiple cuts beginning in late 2023. There was even a chance of recession. Prospects of such a downturn have greatly diminished. Inflation is proving a little stubborn and a rampaging greenback has weakened Korea's currency, the won, to a degree that worries the central bank. This is an unfortunate byproduct of robust conditions in America and diminished hopes for early reductions from the Fed, a shift that has reverberated through global markets. “I wouldn't call it starting from scratch,” Bank of Korea Governor Rhee Chang-yong told reporters recently. “But the situation has changed.”
一年前,情况并非如此。经济学家自信地预测,从 2023 年底开始将出现多次降息。甚至有可能出现经济衰退。这种衰退的前景已经大大减弱。事实证明,通货膨胀有些顽固,而美元的暴涨已经削弱了韩国货币韩元,其程度令韩国央行感到担忧。这是美国经济强劲以及美联储提前降息希望减弱的一个不幸的副产品,这一转变已经在全球市场产生了反响。 “我不会称之为从头开始,”韩国央行行长李昌镛最近对记者表示。 “但情况已经改变了。”

Nor is President Yoon Suk Yeol getting any kind of dividend from this economic buoyancy. His party received a drubbing in parliamentary elections last month when voters rebelled against Yoon’s hard-right policies. So great was the bloc's defeat that political scientists declared his rule over with several years left in his term. Investor-friendly policies championed by Yoon, like deep cuts in capital-gains tax and union busting, will struggle to get traction. The average Korean has yet to experience better times. An index of consumer sentiment has hovered either side of the divide that gauges whether optimism or pessimism prevails. Boom times for Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc. don’t necessarily translate into euphoria on the streets. High levels of debt and worries about inequality have accompanied the country’s advance in recent decades — and inspired Netflix Inc.’s hit Squid Game and, a few year’s earlier, the Oscar-winning film Parasite.
韩国总统尹锡烈也没有从这种经济繁荣中获得任何红利。他的政党在上个月的议会选举中惨败,选民反抗尹恩惠的极右翼政策。欧盟的失败是如此巨大,以至于政治学家在他的任期还剩几年的时候宣布他的统治结束。尹倡导的投资者友好政策,例如大幅削减资本利得税和镇压工会,将很难获得支持。普通韩国人还没有经历过更好的时光。消费者情绪指数徘徊在分歧的两侧,衡量乐观情绪还是悲观情绪。三星电子公司和 SK 海力士公司的繁荣时期并不一定会转化为街头的欢欣鼓舞。近几十年来,高额债务和对不平等的担忧伴随着该国的进步,并启发了 Netflix Inc. 的热门影片《鱿鱼游戏》和几年前的奥斯卡获奖影片《寄生虫》。

But don't let that crowd out some very good news. Gross domestic product in the first quarter increased an impressive 3.4% from a year earlier, beating forecasts by a handsome margin. Net exports were vital to this outcome. Construction, which had languished but stands to be a big beneficiary of the state's infrastructure program, showed signs of ticking up. Household spending is slowly improving.
但不要让它掩盖了一些非常好的消息。第一季度国内生产总值同比增长 3.4%,大幅超出预期。净出口对于这一结果至关重要。建筑业曾一度萎靡不振,但有望成为该州基础设施计划的一大受益者,目前已显示出回升的迹象。家庭支出正在缓慢改善。

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梅纳卡·多西 (Menaka Doshi) 每周发布有关新兴经济强国的内部指南。

Then, last week, blockbuster shipment data hit. Exports climbed more than 11% in April from a year earlier. Purchases by US customers jumped by almost a quarter, easily surpassing the roughly 10% headed to China. That marked the third consecutive month when goods dispatched to America exceeded those destined for its neighbor. Proximity to Beijing no longer automatically bankrolls regional economies.
然后,上周,重磅出货数据袭来。 4月份出口同比增长超过11%。美国客户的采购量增长了近四分之一,轻松超过了中国约 10% 的采购量。这标志着运往美国的货物连续第三个月超过运往邻国的货物。靠近北京不再自动为地区经济提供资金。

When many people think of Korean engagement with the world, they have in mind phenomena like BTS, the boyband sensation whose members are taking time out for military service, or more recent arrivals like NewJeans. To walk down some streets in Singapore is to wonder how many Korean BBQ places a single city can sustain. These are narrow or, at best, incomplete pictures.
当许多人想到韩国与世界的接触时,他们脑海中浮现的都是像 BTS 这样的现象,这是一个轰动一时的男团,其成员都抽出时间去服兵役,或者是像 NewJeans 这样的新人。走在新加坡的一些街道上,你会想知道一个城市可以维持多少个韩国烧烤店。这些都是狭隘的,或者充其量是不完整的图片。

The memory chips that drive modern electronics and artificial intelligence are hot property. There is much more to this economy than its cultural exports. All you need to do is notice the wiring.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

  • Good News on the World Economy Needs Applause: Daniel Moss
  • K-Pop Without the ‘K’ Just Won’t Pop in the US: Bobby Ghosh
    没有“K”的韩国流行音乐就不会在美国流行:Bobby Ghosh
  • Humbled Yoon Must Future-Proof Seoul’s Alliances: Gearoid Reidy
    谦卑的尹必须面向未来的首尔联盟:Gearoid Reidy

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    This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
    本专栏并不一定反映编辑委员会或 Bloomberg LP 及其所有者的意见。

    Daniel Moss is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Asian economies. Previously, he was executive editor for economics at Bloomberg News.
    丹尼尔·莫斯(Daniel Moss)是彭博社观点专栏作家,报道亚洲经济。此前,他曾担任彭博新闻社经济学执行编辑。
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