South Korean Won General Info
The won replaced the South Korean hwan at an exchange rate of 1 hwan to 100 won in 1953 following the Korean war. The won is subdivided into 100 jeon.
A single unit of won is worth little in comparison with the currencies of other advanced economies. Between 1990 and 2017, to buy a single US dollar always required at least ₩900. At points of major won weakness – December 1997 and March 2009 – buying a single US dollar required ₩1900 won and ₩1600 respectively.
Given the almost worthless value of won and jeon coins, in 2017 the South Korean government began a trial with selected stores intended to move the country towards being a coinless society. These stores no longer return coins to customers but instead deposit the coins’ value onto prepaid cards, such as those used by South Koreans on public buses and trains.
Despite the South Korean economy being larger than that of Australia and far larger than those of Switzerland and New Zealand, as well as being advanced, the won is considered a far riskier currency to hold than any of the FX ‘majors’ – a group which includes the Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar and Swiss franc. This is in large part due to the ever-present strain between North and South Korea, which frequently threatens to spill over into a military conflict. For this reason, the won’s value typically falls against these majors (especially the Japanese yen, Swiss franc, US dollar, euro and British pound) during periods of economic uncertainty or when global geopolitical risk is elevated, or during bouts of high market volatility.KRW Foreign Transfers KRW Travel Money Read our Travel Guide to South Korea
South Korean Won - Recent Performance
Much of the good work done by the won against the dollar this year was achieved in the first quarter. Between late March and mid-October (the time of this report), the won traded up and down within a horizontal range spanning 1110 and 1160 per dollar. The won nonetheless remained 7% stronger against USD than it had been at the start of the year.
The won has been tossed around in 2017 by changing risk sentiment, especially as it relates to North Korea.
In part due to caution over its northern neighbour, the Bank of Korea continue to leave interest rates at a record low of 1.25%, although it does seem only a matter of time before borrowing rates in Korea are increased – BoK Governor Lee Ju-yeo hinted as much several times between June and September.
Until the BoK act on rates, it is unlikely that much pressure will be applied on the 1110 level in USD/KRW.
In August, analysts at Nomura said that the won would continue to remain heavy regardless of what happened in North Korea. Should a military conflict occur, the won will plunge more than 10% according to the Japanese bank. Should the status quo be maintained – that being constant tension without military engagement – growth in the South Korean economy will weaken, as will the won. Even in Nomura’s best-case scenario – an end to military threats and the introduction of meaningful negotiations – Nomura forecast a USD/KRW exchange rate of 1140 at the end of 2018; not dissimilar to rates in mid-October.