South Korea’s Economic Outlook Faces Downward Adjustment Again, Defying Global Growth Trend

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

In a striking deviation from the global norm, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has for the fifth time since July of the previous year, slashed its forecast for South Korea’s economic growth rate for 2023 to 1.4%. This move diverges from the IMF’s broader perspective, which has seen a 0.2% increase in the global economic growth forecast this year. As the world navigates its way out of recession, South Korea’s persistent pattern of sluggish growth is undermining the government’s anticipations of a second half rebound.

According to a report from South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance on July 25th, the IMF, in its July 2023 ‘World Economic Outlook (WEO)’, raised its projection for this year’s global economic growth rate to 3.0% – a 0.2% hike compared to its April forecast. This upward adjustment is attributed to factors such as an easing of the recent instability in the financial markets, primarily driven by the resolution of bankruptcy situations at Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse, and a surge in service consumption, like tourism, as the world transitions towards living with COVID-19.

Yet, the IMF’s optimism has bypassed South Korea. Despite upward revisions to the economic growth rates of major economies such as the UK, US, and Japan, South Korea’s forecast has been adjusted downwards by 0.1% from the April forecast, settling at 1.4%. The IMF’s pattern of repeated reductions in its South Korean growth rate forecast aligns with similar revisions from other international heavyweights, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as local institutions like the Korean government, the Bank of Korea, and the Korea Development Institute (KDI).

In a somewhat paradoxical twist, the South Korean economy in the second quarter of 2023 still managed to record a ‘recessionary growth’ – a scenario in which exports decreased but were offset by an even more substantial decline in imports, resulting in a surplus. However, this marginal growth comes amidst falling private and government consumption and lingering uncertainties around the Chinese economy – key factors that muddy the waters of the Korean government’s forecast for the second half of the year.

Preliminary data for the ‘Real Gross Domestic Product for the second quarter of 2023’ from the Bank of Korea indicates a real GDP growth rate of 0.6% for this year’s second quarter. Real GDP, which dipped into the negative (-0.3%) in the final quarter of last year due to a steep fall in exports, returned to positive territory in this year’s first quarter at 0.3% before accelerating its growth rate in the second quarter.

However, questions remain around the timing of the recovery of the manufacturing industry, particularly the semiconductor sector, and the persistent uncertainty over the Chinese economy, a major player in South Korea’s exports. China’s GDP for the second quarter grew by a disappointing 6.3%, falling short of market expectations. Coupled with a slow recovery in consumer spending, South Korea’s economic outlook remains clouded as it enters the second half of the year.

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