Featured Topic: Korea

It seems like Asia may be encountering a few too many IBs around at the moment, (15 altogether – nine bank-backed and six non-bank backed). But which ones are doing really well? Apparently the CIMB group has a lot to say for itself, having been described as “ambitious” in its attempts at becoming a “leading universal bank in South- East Asia, providing a full array of banking services ranging from savings accounts to large corporate transactions for fund-raising.”

Going Global

What initially prompted CIMB to become global occurred in 2005 when it acquired RM500mil of GK Goh Holdings Ltd, which apparently gave the bank access to markets in the region, as well as London. Further to that, the bank purchased the Bumiptura Commerce Bank, Southern Bank, PT Bank Niaga and Bank Thai. Acquiring a “strong balance sheet” led CIMB to greater places.

IB Growth

There has been other regional growth for some of the non-bank IBs too. For example, OSK Investment Bank has established various advancement strategies while working hard on putting itself into the “smaller and mid-cap market as well as research capabilities.” Much of its profit hails from Asia, with 30 percent of its “overseas pre-tax profit” hailing from Singapore. Currently the bank is looking to establish its presence in Thailand and Cambodia. In the former country it is doing this with the purchase of BFIT Securities public Co. and in the latter it now boasts “a full-fledged commercial bank with nine branches as well as license for stockbroking and corporate finance.” OSK IB sees the necessity now to pump up its “institutional equity capability.” If it does this successfully in Hong Kong, it will be well on its way to establishing a very solid presence throughout the Asian region since it sees this country as “one of the largest financial gateways.”

There has been significant restructuring in OSK as well as new employees in an attempt to go further in its markets and develop a presence in Europe while “exposing the Asian markets to the Europeans.” As well the company is looking into what they can do in South Korea, Taiwan and China.

Asian Job Creation Scheme

The economic climate and job potential in Asia is about to get a kick-start. A group of economic development officials led by Gov. Bob McDonnell just set out on an “11-day job creation and economic development marketing mission,” to China, Japan and South Korea at an estimated cost of $278,000. This scheme will be financed by taxpayers. He is being joined by Jim Cheng, Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Todd Haymore, Secretary of Agriculture and those connected with Virginia.

The group is Virginia Economic Development Partnership which will – through the efforts – be able to try and develop relations with various companies and potentially acquiesce new clients for their projects as their will be a promotion of various investment/business opportunities hopefully also resulting in “job creation initiatives throughout the Commonwealth.”

Project Gets First Lady Backing

Not only is First Lady Maureen McDonnell supportive of this great project, she is showing it by being part of the mission. McDonnell will be traveling to China and South Korea “focusing her efforts on promoting tourism and the Virginia wine industry.” Her husband believes they have much to offer, offering “a great tax, regulatory and litigation environment,” amongst other incentives.

There will be meetings with CEO’s and business executives from around the world who will be told about the benefits of investing in Virginia. It is essential that jobs are created for “our citizens” who need them he said and thus the company “will not sit by and watch as the jobs….are awarded to other states and countries that choose to be more proactive and visible.”

Worldwide Job Creation Competition

It seems that right now there is a lot of competition to try and get more jobs in the private sector area that is set to “power and define the 21st century economy.” McDonnell wants Virginia to “win that competition,” which will lead to extra “jobs and opportunities” for the citizens to ensure a “better and stronger Commonwealth in the years ahead.”

Escalating Chinese Exports

In terms of the export markets, things are going well for China now. In 2000, china ranked number 14 but now it holds the number 2 position. This is why it is now a great environment to receive McDonnell and his mission in an attempt to “promote Virginia’s location advantages to approximately key 100 business executives.”

There is a great chance that this mission will be successful since McDonnell has done it before when he went to Europe last year. At the time he “helped close a lucrative economic development deal that led to the company investing $28.3 million to expand its O’Sullivan Films operation in Winchester.” Over 150 new jobs were created there following this.

So let’s hope McDonnell does it again and Asia’s job market will really benefit too.

Are Asian Women Financially Savvy Today?

Years ago the answer for sure would have been a resounding “no.” But today things are somewhat different. It seems that women in Asia (especially those married, 30+, in the workforce) know their won from their yen and their level of competence is likely to increase further “especially among the younger generation.”

For example, women from Thailand topped financial planning (87) and investment (69.3) scores for financial literacy but Vietnamese women also did pretty well, scoring 70.1 overall, placing them in fourth place. There wasn’t much to sniff at with women from the Philippines either (who did extremely well in Financial Planning), but those from Korea and Japan could probably learn a lesson or two on how to get more financially in-the-know.

Survey Assesses Savvyness

It was the MasterCard Index of Financial Literacy that took a survey of these countries. The questions were posed to 24 markets around APMEA (Asia/Pacific Middle East Africa). It looked at three main areas: Basic Money Management (budgeting, savings and credit responsibility); Financial Planning (their understanding of financial products and services as well as ability to make long-term financial plans); Investment (understanding of risks and products associated with investments). In general, Asian women as a whole did best in Financial Planning.

In developed markets it was women from Australia and New Zealand who were most successful in their financial knowledge. Females from Singapore are pretty good at basic money management but were pretty clueless vis-à-vis anything to do with investments. But when looking at financial literacy, India and China don’t seem to be all that with it.

According to VP of Communications for Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, MasterCard Worldwide, Georgette Tan, “this new MasterCard Index has certainly provided us with fresh insights to women’s aptitude for and knowledge of managing their finances. While it is encouraging to see that women across Asia/Pacific have some degree of financial literacy, it is also apparent that there is still work to be done to improve levels across the board.” This is important as complexities increase in the financial world resulting in a necessity for women to become “more financially confident and competent.” MasterCard also seeks to give more power to these women.

In an attempt to escalate investments for the two, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) is joining up with South Korea, seeking to develop the region’s state-run funds in a global capacity. The latter is known as being “one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.” The National Pension Service (NPS) and Korea Investment Corp (KIC) are set to reap most benefits from this alliance which will enable ADIA to make investments through a South Korean local brokerage.

NPS Credibility

The NPS has some serious credibility. It is the world’s fourth leader in pension funds, standing at over 300 trillion won. But one can always take things further. It is today trying to escalate its overseas investments in the field of resources development.

KIC Financing

Where does the Korea Investment Corporation fit into all this? This organization has only been around for just over five years with the aim of “enhancing sovereign wealth and contribut[ing] to the development of the financial industry by efficiently managing assets entrusted by the Government and the Bank of Korea.” As well, it seeks to keep hold of its long-term purchasing power on its assets and “exceed investment target return” through the investment of “well-diversified, foreign currency denominated assets transacted in the international capital markets.”

ADIA’s Portfolio

ADIA is pretty impressive too. Owned by the Abu Dhabi government, the authority has been in business for over 35 years and is today recognized as a “globally diversified investment institution.” It spans over two-dozen areas, including: fixed income, private equity, infrastructure and equities.

So all in all this merger looks like it’s going to be mutually beneficial to the region and the authority. As soon as there is such a cohesion, it has a much greater possibility of being able to have a much larger and longer-term impact on the global economy.

Although he may be struggling to win popularity in his cabinet, Naota Kan might have some fans from the fairer sex and might even be stealthily celebrating International Women’s Day today.  Following his university graduation, Kan was a staff member for Fusae Ichikawa’s campaign, a woman’s rights activist.  But unfortunately, this isn’t exactly helping his case today.  When things are already looking somewhat bleak for the guy, his cabinet is facing further instability leading commentators to conclude that his “days as prime minister are numbered.”

Kan’s Cabinet Crashes

Seiji Maehara resigned for taking illegal donations from a Korean national which also brought to the forefront discussions about Japan’s diplomacy.  This doesn’t look good for Kan as Prime Minister or for the stability of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) either.  The resignation of three cabinet ministers cannot be good for anyone.


So perhaps Kan should step down gracefully and go do something else in the non-profit world instead…like celebrating the women in his country by fighting their corner.  Who knows?  The fairer sex just might not be so harsh on him.

 

While China’s economy and finance markets are looking bold and strong, its Korean neighbor isn’t faring quite so well.  The potential of the Middle Eastern mess is once again being blamed for the success and stagnation of the yuan and the won.  Indeed, statistics showed a hit of 345.35 billion yuan (probably supported by short- and medium-term bonds).  Meanwhile in North Korea the “dire economic situation” is so extreme that international food aid calls (which have likely lessened due to missile and nuclear programs) are becoming increasingly louder, apparently to no avail.  On the one hand the country was blaming international pressure for their failure while simultaneously asking the world for charitable handouts.  Despite its attractive-looking economy, China has not been dealing with the Middle Eastern mess so well, and instead psychologically ignoring its very existence, or running into a panic at the thought of what might entail.

China’s Success Mimics Korea’s Failure

So while the Chinese economy is going from strength to strength, the same can’t be said for Korea.  This hasn’t always been the case.  At one time, it was reported that South Korea was providing around 400,000 tons of rice each year to North Korea but once relations between the two started depleting around three years ago, this gift ended too.

Looking towards China though, things couldn’t be brighter.  It seems that Yujiapu is set to be home to “the world’s largest financial zone a decade from now.”  A set of twelve buildings are to be constructed marking just the “first phase” in this new financial world headquarter, really putting the rest of the region to shame.  While their brothers in North Korea are looking for bread and water, the Chinese are enjoying festive banqueting.


 


A nationwide smart grid is to be built by 2030, receiving a staggering $7.18 billion investment from South Korea’s state-run Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), in an attempt to “curb the country's carbon emissions and improve efficiency in its electricity market.”  There have been various greening efforts in South Korea such as 131-acre rooftop gardens; electric scooters for local police etc.
Ultimately the smart grid will provide for more efficient power distribution and maintenance.  Consumers are able to participate in a more active role to determine power usage via home appliance monitoring and direct grid feedback.
 

 

 

Just today, the attempts by Korea Investment & Securities (KIS) to accrue payment from Lehman Brothers International vis-à-vis the company's purchase of credit-linked notes (CLN’s) which are securities that have embedded credit default swaps enabling the issuer to transfer a credit risk to credit investors, four and a half years ago, were dismissed.  A few weeks ago the court dismissed TrueFriend’s claim (a KIS assignee) against Lehman Brothers International Europe (LBIE) which tried to recover $1314 million in loss on these CLN’s from November 2006.

 

This particular case is KIS’s purchase of CLNs from Lehman Brothers Treasure Co. a few years ago.  Some months later TrueFriend was set up by KIS, which it used to transfer/sell the CLN to.  A year and a half later following Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, TrueFriend no longer received any more payments, claiming LBIE to be the “de facto issuer,” not the LBTC.

 

Today, Mike Jervis (PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner in London) said, “The administrators welcome the court’s judgment, which will now enable them to continue with the orderly wind-down of LBIE and return of assets to creditors in a timely fashion.”

 

There is some talk that KIS will appeal the decision but Jarvis remains hopeful for KIS as the CLN “remains a valid claim in bankruptcy against LBTC and LBHI.

 

KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corp) just announced that South Korea will be investing $7.18 billion into a nationwide smart grid that is due for completion by 2030.  This investment is an attempt to “curb the country’s carbon emissions and improve efficiency in its electricity market.”  It seems that South Korea is the perfect location for smaller-scale greening efforts such as the transformation of landfills into hydrogen generators; the construction of huge 131-acre rooftop gardens; the introduction and use of electric scooters for local police.  This is great, but it comes alongside the fact that the country is quite a high carbon polluter within the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. For South Korea, this will ultimately mean that 11 percent of energy will be taken from renewable sources like wind and solar.  The country will draw 11% of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
 

 

Recent world events – New Zealand earthquake, Japan’s credit rating downgrade and continued Middle East and Libyan unrest – led to a significant drop in stock markets across Asia.  For example, South Korea’s Kospi, the Nikkei 225 stock and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index all plummeted around 2 percent.  As well, Japan had trouble dealing with its huge debt following Moody’s Investors Service downgrading its outlook for the country’s credit rating, citing “increasing uncertainty” over Japan’s capacity to effectively deal with rising debt.  This doesn’t spell good news for the country which only last month had its sovereign debt rating cut by Standard & Poor.  Australia, China, Singapore and Taiwan are currently in the same boat vis-à-vis stock markets. The only good news for the region of late has been the increase in oil prices.