South Korean stocks enjoy longest foreign buying spree
Foreign investors are on their longest-ever buying spree of South Korean stocks – another sign that the country has emerged as a one of Asia's most popular safe-havens, analysts say.
Data on Monday showed foreign investors bought South Korean stocks for a 37th straight session, bringing the net total to more than 12.6 trillion won (US$ 11.8 billion), while the country's stock market closed at its highest level since August 2011.
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The data follows a report from investment bank Morgan Stanley last week which highlighted South Korea as a relative 'safe haven' within the emerging market region.
"Korea now stands out as a safe haven for investors, especially amid global macro uncertainty," read the report, which referred to South Korea's turnaround from a country once crisis prone to one that has become increasingly resilient to external shocks.
"Korea has been in the eye of every economic storm we have seen in Asia over the last two decades. However, 2008 proved to be a watershed year, as regulations were implemented to foster stability in its economy," said the report.
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South Korea has weathered a grueling test in recent months, amid the fallout from the U.S. Federal Reserve's planned tapering, which prompted a sharp sell off across most emerging market currencies, equities and bonds.
However, the export-led economy managed to emerge relatively unscathed. The won has depreciated 4.36 percent against the dollar since late May, in contrast to some of the more battered emerging market currencies like the Indian rupee, which has lost nearly 11 percent. Meanwhile the Kospi has risen over 3 percent over the same period.
Morgan Stanley analysts listed a number of positive factors that support the investment case for South Korea, including a more disciplined approach from corporations towards capex spending, a record high current account surplus, ample foreign reserves and a relatively low level of hot money inflows since 2009 within the Asia Pacific (ex-Japan) region.
And while some economists have raised concerns about a bubble in South Korea's property sector, Morgan Stanley analysts said there was no risk of a correction.
"It is probably one of the very few economies in Asia Pacific (ex-Japan) that could even see upside in its property prices in the next three years rather than the possible correction we may expect in other countries."
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However, other analysts were less convinced. Tim Condon, head of research for Asia at ING Financial, agreed that South Korea has performed as a safe haven in recent months, but said he believed the move to be a temporary development.
"It's definitely performed as a safe haven since the end of May when the market turmoil intensified," said Condon. "The issue is whether or not the safe-haven demand persists and I'd say no. The safe haven bid is fading as investors go back to reaching for yield."
According to Condon, as the weakness in the Japanese yen - which proved a headwind to Korean exporters at the start of the year - subsides, Korea will become less attractive as a safe haven.
"The depreciating yen overshadowed tight Bank of Korea monetary policy at the beginning of the year. Reduced yen depreciation risk leaves tight monetary policy to drive the won higher and I expect hot money will flow into the Kospi positioning for won appreciation," he said.
— By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie