WRAPUP 1-S.Korea sees weaker growth; forex reserves slide
Reuters - 35 minutes ago
* Official sees weak growth, no value to forex intervention
* Forex reserves at near four-year low
* Officials, analysts say reserves won't fall sharply
By Cheon Jong-woo and Seo Eun-kyung
SEOUL, Dec 3 - A top South Korean official conceded on Wednesday that economic growth would fall below target next year and that the government did not have enough foreign exchange reserves to lift up the country's hammered currency.
Analysts said the comments by the president's top economic adviser, which followed news that currency reserves had fallen to a nearly four-year low, increased pressure on the central bank to do more to help including cutting interest rates further to limit the damage caused by the global economic downturn.
"The presidential secretary is trying to pressure the central bank for more drastic action by highlighting a bleak economic outlook," said Kong Dong-rak, a fixed-income analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities.
The central bank said it would hold an emergency monetary policy meeting later in the day to discuss purchasing more bonds from banks and easing rules over cash reserve ratios. It made no mention about interest rates.
It is due to hold a monthly interest rate review meeting on Dec. 11.
"Overall, there is a consensus forecast for growth of some 2-3 percent . I do not disagree with that," Bahk Byoung-won, senior presidential economic secretary, told reporters.
The government is expected to later this month revise its 4 percent economic growth forecast for next year. GDP growth this year is expected to be 4.7 percent.
Some investment banks have predicted the economy could contract as much as three percent next year as the global recession takes the momentum out of exports, long the country's main growth driver, and as domestic demand wilts.
Exports last month fell more than 18 percent, their biggest drop in seven years, with one official saying the economy was slowing more than expected.
Reserves also fell last month, hitting their lowest in almost four years at $200.5 billion.
NOT ENOUGH TO HELP
Even though they were the world's sixth largest at $200.5 billion by the end of November, Bahk said that was not big enough to lift the won <KRW=> which has lost nearly 40 percent of its value this year against the dollar.
"South Korea does not have enough capacity for massive forex intervention. We will carry out smoothing operations in forex markets when necessary," presidential adviser Bahk said.
The government and central bank have been forced to pump foreign currency into the system after banks suddenly found themselves unable to raise dollars through normal banking channels as the global financial downturn deepened.
South Korean banks have looked especially vulnerable to the crisis partly due to their high level of short-term foreign currency loans used to fund the country's exporters.
"The foreign exchange authorities steadily injected foreign currency liquidity to ease uncertainty in the local foreign currency money market due to a persistent global credit crunch," the Bank of Korea said.
Officials said they did not expect reserves to fall much further, a prediction a number of analysts agreed with given an improvement in the current account, a $30 billion dollar credit line at the U.S. Federal Reserves and liquidity injections by other central banks.
Worry that the nation's foreign exchange reserves might dip below $200 billion have been fanning investor concerns over a fresh currency crisis similar to the one that hammered South Korea over a decade ago.
The local currency turned lower quoted at 1,467.8/1.2 per dollar as of 0641 GMT, against Tuesday's domestic close <KRW=KFTC> of 1,464.5.
Asia's worst performing currency has fallen some 36 percent against the dollar so far this year and hit its lowest level in almost 11 years on Nov. 21.
MORE FX INJECTION
The Bank of Korea and the government have injected $31.9 billion in foreign currency liquidity into the banking system in October and November, out of a planned $55 billion, the BOK said.
The liquidity injection figure includes $7.5 billion provided by swap deals in November, it added.
Reserves have fallen more than $50 billion since June as authorities have sold dollars to support a rapidly falling won and injected billions of dollars in stabilisation moves.
The Bank of Korea said 90.8 percent of the reserves were invested in securities, followed by 8.8 percent deposited at financial institutions.
As of the end of October, South Korea had the world's sixth-largest foreign exchange reserves after China, Japan, Russia, India and Taiwan, the central bank said.
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