Archive for the ‘Price liberalization’ Category

North Korean markets heavily filled with Chinese products and currency

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

After North Korea’s currency revaluation in 2009, North Korean currency is still unstable and North Korean markets near the DPRK-China border are reportedly filled with Chinese merchandise, with transactions being conducted mainly in Chinese yuan.

An online newspaper, the Daily NK, reported that markets in the city of Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) and surrounding areas are using Chinese yuan as the primary currency for transactions rather than local North Korean won.  Rice prices are standard indicators of inflation in North Korea and even rice was reported to be exchanged in yuan.  As the monetary value of domestic currency continues to fall, North Korea is experiencing hyperinflation and North Koreans are showing a preference for the more stable Chinese yuan over won.

With an exception of rice, vegetables, and seafood, manufactured goods including confectioneries, the daily necessities for sale in these markets are mostly from China.  As well, some South Korean items such as instant noodles, Choco Pies, and butane gas are sold openly in the markets.

Border areas have a higher rate of Chinese yuan usage than inland areas, as for years traders have been buying Chinese goods with Chinese yuan to sell in the domestic markets.  However, with the unstable domestic currency, more and more North Koreans have been using Chinese yuan over the last three years.  Some report goods bought with North Korean won must be converted to the CNY exchange rate.

As of mid-April, the exchange rate of 100 CNY to KPW was 130,000. However, Pyongsong and Pyongyang cities used mainly US dollars and local won in equal rates.

A video recording obtained by the Daily NK unveiled the landscape of the marketplace and nearby alley markets of  Hyesan and surrounding areas.  Items for sale include jackets, mufflers, gloves, coats and other winter clothing as well as cosmetics, perfumes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other daily goods. Transactions were being made in Chinese yuan.

North Korean authorities are waging a crackdown against the use of the yuan in the markets but merchants continue to use yuan in secret.

The high number of Chinese goods in North Korean markets can be attributed to the failed production system of the people’s economy of North Korea, which began to tumble in the late 1990s. As the regime began to invest excessively in its military sector, production in the manufacturing sector declined.

Although North Korean products appear in the markets, most people prefer Chinese goods due to their better quality.

A recent article in the official state economics journal of North Korea, Kyongje Yongu (Journal of Economic Research), criticized the “trade companies for focusing on only one or two countries,” expressing concerns that, “the whole nation may experience political and economic pressure from trade companies that restrict foreign trade to only one country.”

Kim Jong Un has also expressed official disapproval against “import syndrome” of the people and regarded it as an obstacle hindering the development of North Korea’s light industry.

Although no specific country was named, it is believed that China makes up over 80 percent of North Korea’s total foreign trade. North Korea continues to show vigilance against its rising dependence on China.


DPRK distributing grain / Rice price falls

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

Rice prices in North Korean markets have fallen dramatically after the authorities increased levels of food distribution in major urban areas like Pyongyang and Sinuiju, part of state policy of “normalizing” public distribution. Most people are undecided about the policy, but the reality is that grain has been provided by the state both last month and into this, and this is having an effect on market grain prices.

A Pyongyang source told Daily NK on the 21st, “There was five days of distribution in the first part of last month and ten days in the last part, then a further five days at the start of this month, so rice prices fell. The authorities are saying that they are going to give ten days of distribution per month until September, then normalize it completely after that.”

Ten days of distribution at North Korea’s own mandated levels means 4.5kg for workers and a further 2kg for dependent family members.

“When they first heard about [the policy of distribution normalization] they didn’t believe it, but after getting fifteen days distribution last month and another five days this, people are wondering whether this time it could be different,” the source said. “Even last month most people said ‘this will only last for this month,’ but now they have done it this month as well the number of expectant people is rising.”

The source also revealed data on the drop in market grain prices, saying that at one point the price of rice in Pyongyang had declined from 6500-7000won/kg, the approximate price point since the start of the year, to 4500won. “Although it has since climbed back up through the 5000won barrier, it is holding steady,” she added.

However, “From the middle part of April the price started slowly rising again,” she went on, conjecturing, “If distribution is achieved next month as well then it should stay below 6000won, perhaps even staying at around 4000-5000won.”

Aware that Pyongyang is a unique case in the North Korean context, Daily NK has also been checking conditions in other parts of the country, including along the Sino-North Korean border, and has learned that there has been distribution in the North Pyongan Province city of Sinuiju, the Yangkang Province city of Hyesan, and Heoiryeong and Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province, raising the possibility, which sources have echoed, that distribution is occurring nationwide. All the areas checked by Daily NK have also seen rice prices falling sharply thanks to the state distribution.

One Sinuiju-based source explained the situation there, saying, “As far as I know, the official policy of normalizing distribution is not just for our region but all other regions, too. They recently gave us ten days of rice here, so the price in the jangmadang (market) has fallen below 5000won.”

Sources report that between April 14 and 17 the price of rice has fallen to 5400won in Hyesan, 5100won in Hoiryeong, 5200won in Chongjin, and 5000won in Saebyeol County.

A source from Chongjin explained, “On or around April 10th it was selling for 4800won, but has since gone back over 5000won. They have given distribution but exchange rates are not falling, so if distribution ceases at any point, prices will have to rise again.” The same source noted, however, that in Hyesan prices fell, but when the authorities then stopped importing rice from China, they rose again, reaching 6400won. “Rumor has it that they will allow imports again,” the source noted, “but nobody knows when so prices remain high.”

Read the full story here:
Rice Prices Fall on State Distribution
Daily NK
Kim Yong Hun


ROK reports DPRK economy little changed in the last year

Friday, April 12th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

According to the data compiled by the Ministry of Unification and based on information provided by foreign institutions, there were minor improvements in grain production and electricity output, but the difference was minimal and may have actually fueled inequality.

“Personally, I see almost no change from a year earlier,” said a ministry official, who did not want to be identified.

The data was released to the press to coincide with the first anniversary of the North Korean leader having assumed the country’s top job. Kim inherited the communist country after the death of his father in late 2011, but became the first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea on April 11 of last year.

North Korea’s food production is estimated to have increased 10.5 percent on-year to 4.92 million tons in the 2012-2013 grain year, the official said, adding that this translates into a shortage of 210,000 tons, down from 300,000 tons from the previous year.

The official, however, said foreign data is based purely on information given by Pyongyang, and is not reliable.

“There may be a need to carefully look at the data on grain,” he said, hinting at the fact that there have been numerous cases over the years where official information was not supported by facts.

On power production, the recent opening of the Huichon power station has increased output by 21.1 billion kilowatts, but the benefits are mostly being felt by the elite in Pyongyang. Outside the capital city, other regions are still affected by power shortages, he claimed.

The official added that while Kim has been calling for the bolstering of its agriculture and light industries, funds earmarked for these sectors grew at a slower pace than the overall growth of the budget.

The 2013 budget grew 5.9 percent from the year before, but funds for the light industry and farming sectors gained 5.1 percent. Defense spending on the other hand gained 16 percent on-year.

The latest data showed that consumer prices have generally been moving up since last year, potentially putting a greater burden on many people whose salaries have not changed in years, the official said.

Read the full story here:
N.K. economy remains unchanged under new leader: data


Some food, inflation, and trade data

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

These are all interesting data points. Do you think they offer reasonable journalistic evidence that the DPRK is practicing inflationary public finance?

First, Yonhap reports on DPRK food imports from China (2012-9-29):

North Korea’s grain imports from China slipped 16.3 percent on year in the first eight months of this year, in an apparent sign that the North may diversify its supply channels of grain, a Seoul researcher said Saturday.

North Korea imported 181,264 tons of rice, flour, corn and other grains from China in the eight-month period, compared with 216,535 tons for the same period last year, said Kwon Tae-jin of the state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute.

The decline in grain imports from China may be attributed to a rise in food aid from China and purchases from non-China markets such as Europe and South America, Kwon said.

“Including imports from non-China markets, North Korea’s total grain imports appeared to rise this year,” Kwon said in a report posted on his Web site, adding Pyongyang may “diversify its import channels.”

At the same time the Daily NK reports that food prices continue to rise (2012-10-2):

Internal sources informed Daily NK over the holiday that on September 29th the price of rice was 6,700 won/kg in Pyongyang, 7,000 won/kg in Onsung, North Hamkyung Province and 6,500 won/kg further west in Hyesan, Yangkang Province.

Not only do these prices far exceed those of Chuseok 2011, they even far exceed those of earlier this year.

The Hyesan source explained that on the day before the Chuseok holiday (Saturday) the atmosphere in the market was thus rather uncomfortable. “It was very slack,” she said. “People couldn’t buy anything easily, so most just seemed to be looking.”

Secondly, Yonhap reports that despite situations like those experienced by Xiyang or in Musan, mineral exports to China are up (2012-10-2):

North Korea’s exports of mineral resources recorded a 33-fold jump over the past decade with China remaining the biggest importer of the North’s iron ore and coal, a report showed Tuesday.

North Korea’s mineral exports stood at a meager US$50 million in 2001, accounting for 7.8 percent of its total exports, according to the report by Seoul’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

The mineral exports soared to $243 million in 2005 and $1.65 billion in 2011, accounting for 59.4 percent of the North’s total exports last year, the report said.

South Korea has estimated the total values of mineral deposits in North Korea at some $6.3 trillion.

Last year, North Korea exported $1.17 billion worth of anthracite coal and $405 million worth of iron ore, with China importing almost 100 percent of anthracite coal and iron ore, it said.


Food and other commodity prices on the increase

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Daily NK reports that food is now at record prices (5,oooW/kg) despite the food market operating under ‘normal’ operations. According to the article:

The price of rice has hit 5,000 North Korean Won/kg in the market in Hyesan, Yangkang Province. This is the first time that the psychologically significant price point has been reached under ‘normal’ market operations in the region.

A source from the city told Daily NK today, “The price was just 4,500 won as recently as the 5th, but this morning it reached 5,000 won. The prices of all other items are also on the rise, and as corn and rice prices rise in the midst of an already difficult food situation, many households are buying less food.”

Rice prices in other regions are rising too, other sources have informed Daily NK. Rice was selling for 4,500 won in Musan, North Hamkyung Province on the 5th, and had already exceeded 5,000 won in Muncheon, Kangwon Province on that same day.

Rice prices in North Korea tend to reflect the upward (or downward) trend in the exchange rate of the day, indicating the strong causal relationship between them. So it is no surprise that whereas the Chinese Yuan exchange rate was 800 to 1 on July 5th, it had risen to 810-820 won/Yuan by July 9th, and today reached 860 won/Yuan (July 10th).

Increasing exchange rates and rice prices will inevitably exert upward pressure on all prices, aggravating inflation. Naturally, people are complaining, “How are we meant to survive when rice is so expensive?” the source commented.

Prices rises are of course not the problem–they are a symptom of the problem: the DPRK has a poorly developed agricultural production and and distribution infrastructure. Although the North Korean people have shown great ingenuity at developing local coping mechanism do deal with adverse agriculture supply shocks (such as hoarding, making liquor, preserving food, cultivating private plots, and using cell phones to solve problems), they still lack access to crop insurance, futures markets, infrastructure, security of land and earnings, inflation, etc.

Read the full story here:
Rice Arrives Back at 5,000 Won
Daily NK
Kim So Yeol


DPRK exercising stricter enforcement of official prices

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

At the beginning of last month, the North Korean authorities ordered local commercial management offices to strengthen oversight to ensure that products were being sold at official state prices, according to a source from Shinuiju on February 6th.

Meeting with Daily NK on a visit to Dandong, China, the source explained, “Friction has started up again between market managers and traders because of orders at the start of the year to make sure that everything is sold at the state-designated price. They do this every year, but this year they are confiscating products and transferring them for sale in state stores.”

Price-related orders are issued annually in North Korea, where the authorities are still reluctant to countenance market price autonomy despite fifteen years of ad hoc marketization. As such, the Ministry of Procurement and Food Policy sets the prices of key goods and posts them at the entrance to markets. These prices are approximately uniform across the country.

Only ‘regional’ items being treated differently; prices for these items are set by pricing bureaus established under provincial People’s Committees. Most obviously, the state price of seafood is cheaper in coastal areas than in inland parts of the country.

However, real price differentials make selling at these state prices untenable; for example, the market price of a kilo of rice in Shinuiju is currently hovering around 3,200 won, while that for corn is 2,200 won, yet the state prices are 1,600 won and 690 won respectively. Therefore, traders traditionally simply pretend to sell at state prices when inspectors turn up, before resuming trade at market prices once they have left.

But the problem this year is that enforcement is stricter than usual, with illegally priced products being confiscated, transferred directly to state stores and sold at state prices. According to the source, “In the past state prices were only symbolic and inspectors didn’t enforce them. Even if they confiscated something you could pay them a little and get it back. But now they are just selling those products directly at state prices, so a lot of people who have ignored the crackdowns are ending up in a real fix.”

Not only that. “People who are caught like this are banned from trading from a stall for a month,” the source added. “Traders are reacting very carefully now as a result.”

However, history has taught traders that the crackdown is unlikely to last too long, and anticipate a return to less strict oversight in due course.

Read the full story here:
Annual Market Crackdown Ensnaring the Careless
Daily NK
Park Jun Hyeong and Jeong Jae Sung


New year seeing active trade

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

According to the Daily NK:

There has been an upswing in prices and exchange rates in North Korea as East Asia moves towards the lunar New Year’s holiday, which falls on the 23rd.

A source from Hyesan in Yangkang Province told Daily NK this afternoon, “The number of people in the jangmadang is rising and trade is getting more active, and so the Yuan exchange rate and rice price are both on the up.” According to the source, the Yuan is trading for 680 North Korean Won, while rice is hovering at approximately 4,300.

A source from Musan in North Hamkyung Province previously reported similar circumstances to Daily NK on the 16th, with the Yuan at 780 Won and rice and corn at 4,500 Won and 800 Won respectively in the jangmadang there.

The current situation follows on from a price spike before Kim Jong Il’s death on December 17th [see here and here], the following mourning period (to the 29th) and criticism sessions (to January 8th). However, while at its height last month the price of the most expensive rice had hit 5,000 Won, by January 11th-14th it had declined to 3,000-3,500 Won in eastern regions. Now, however, with the holiday period ahead, prices are rising again.

“Although the self-criticism period ended, we still had to keep an eye on the security forces so the number of sellers in the jangmadang was what it used to be, but from a few days ago people started using the jangmadang as normal and the rice and Yuan prices started rising a bit,” the Hyesan source explained.

Interestingly, while the authorities have tried a number of measures to regulate the Sino-North Korean border and limit the use of foreign currency of late, sources report that the measures have only had a minor effect on prices and have not daunted the will of local people to trade at all.

Overseas currency is even being traded publicly somewhat more frequently now, sources report, showing the skepticism with which the people view official threats to stop the use of Yuan and U.S. Dollars in the market.

As the Musan source commented wryly, “People are saying that ‘If his dad couldn’t stop it, what is the young one going to do about it?’ and ‘As long as the Tumen River keeps flowing, they can’t stop the Yuan, the smuggling, or the defection.’”

Read the full story here:
New Year Seeing Active Trade
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young


Two years after the DPRK’s currency revaluation

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It has been two years since the implementation of North Korea’s currency revaluation and the South Korean government recently has presented an assessment of it, evaluating it as a complete failure, as exchange rates have skyrocketed and inflation set in.

It has been largely evaluated as having weakened the government control over the market and the people.

In the report released by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU), the prices of rice and exchange rates have returned previously to the level before the measure went into effect. The prices of rice per kg that cost between 20 to 40 KPW in December 2009 has jumped to 3,000 to 5,000 KPW as of November of this year, which is more than a 2,300 times increase.

The price of rice that went for 2,400 KPW early this October is believed to be close to 5,000 KWP currently.

The fluctuation of rice price is allegedly associated with preparation for next year’s celebration (i.e., of North Korea becoming a “strong and prosperous nation”). According to an anonymous North Korean government official, rice is being stockpiled to be released next year during the celebration period.

North Korea has self-proclaimed 2012, the centennial birthday of Kim Il Sung, as the first year of the “strong and prosperous nation.” While it may be ephemeral, it said it will normalize rice distribution for next year.

The exchange rate for KPW in December 2009 was 35 North Korean won to one USD; a year later, it soared to 2,000 won, and it is currently worth 3,800 won.

At the time of the currency revaluation, the usage of foreign currency was completely banned. This in return made the exchange rate spiral up. In February of this year, North Korea eventually abandoned this measure.

One Chinese yuan is also worth about 400 KPW, standing shoulder to shoulder with the value of the US dollar. About 300 markets that exist currently in North Korea are affected by the soaring exchange rate of the yuan, raising the prices of Chinese products on the market.

North Korea also has increased wages for the workers a hundred fold during the currency redenomination; but life for the people has become harder due to hyperinflation.

The average monthly salary of a North Korean worker is about 3,000 KPW; however, the monthly expenses for an average family of four hovers around 100,000 KPW.

The MOU has announced that the currency reform implemented by the North Korean government two years ago was intended to weaken the role of the markets, and regulate the new-rich, generate supplies of capital for the construction industry, and adjust the amount of domestic currency in circulation. In the end, the reevaluation ended up achieving the opposite.

At the time, the government prohibited sales of imported and industrial products on the market and promoted marketization of agricultural goods. But the people’s dependency on markets is as high as ever, leading to a relaxation of market regulation in February 2010.

The MOU also stated, “There is growing distrust of the government among North Koreans from the failed policy which in effect undermined the power of the government to control the market and the people.”

The Daily NK also reported some similar information:

The price of rice in North Hamkyung Province and other areas along the Sino-North Korean border has passed 5,000 won per kilo. This represents a rise of over 1,000 won in little over a fortnight, after similar reports came out two weeks ago asserting that the price had passed 4,000 won in late November.

Sources have independently reported that the 5,000 won mark has been passed in markets in the cities of Hoeryeong and Musan, both in North Hamkyung Province, and Hyesan in Yangkang Province. The exchange rate of the Chinese Yuan against the North Korean won has simultaneously jumped from the low 700s to 800 in Hyesan and over 1,000 in Musan and Hoeryeong.

Reporting the news, one Hoeryeong-based source told The Daily NK, “The price rises have left people living hand-to-mouth, and the endless government controls and crackdowns mean people have no idea what to do. The atmosphere in the jangmadang has gotten really ugly on rumors that prices are going to rise further.”

A source from Musan pointed out, “The Yuan seems to go up every day, and now that rice has passed 5,000 won a kilo people have no idea what they’re going to eat to survive.”

“We’ve already given up on the idea of eating rice cake for the Chinese New Year,” the trading source from Hyesan said, going on, “Chosun rice now costs 5,000 won a kilo while Chinese rice is 3,800 won. Wherever you go people are up in arms about it.”

Most locals blame the rapid rise in the cost of living on the strength of the Yuan against the North Korean won. In this way, the lack of confidence in the local currency promoted and enhanced by the 2009 currency redenomination seems to be having a direct effect on the price of rice.

“Everybody prefers to use Renminbi to Chosun money, so by the time you wake up in the morning the thing which has risen again is the price of the Yuan. Because the exchange rate is rising, it is inevitable that the price of rice goes up as well,” the source from Hyesan explained.”

Interestingly, according to the border region sources there is no great difference in the physical volume of rice in the market. However, because the Yuan has become the main currency for both the supply and demand sides of the market, prices have risen in accordance with the change in the exchange rate. The use of the Yuan as the medium of exchange between locals was already becoming institutionalized even before the recent rises.

The rapid price rises are also encouraging traders to try and obtain more locally-grown rice.

The source from Hyesan said, “Train stations in North Hamgyung and Hwanghae Provinces are in complete chaos when there is a train because of all the traders trying to bring in local rice, as well as the agents regulating them,” while the source from Musan said, “Many people are stocking up on food while they can because of reports that food prices will keep rising until next spring.”

Marcus Noland also blogged about the price of food and US$ exchange rate in the DPRK last week.

Read the full Daily NK story here:
Rice Tops Key 5,000 Won Mark
Daily NK
Lee Seok Young


Noland on DPRK inflation (post currency renomination)

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Marcus Noland has crunched some numbers to some up with an approximate inflation rate for the DPRK won after it was renominated in November 2009. According to his post:

The chart above shows the trajectory of prices for rice, corn, and the US dollar since January 2010 (i.e. after the huge step-jump in real prices in December 2009 following the currency reform). A simple regression of the prices (technically their logarithmic values) against time suggests that since the beginning of 2010, inflation on an annualized basis has averaged 131 percent for rice and 138 percent for corn. The won has depreciated against the dollar at a 136 percent annualized rate. A monthly breakdown of price movements suggests that while remaining high, the rate of inflation has attenuated, declining in 2011 relative to 2010.

The co-movement of the blackmarket exchange rate and grain prices would be consistent with a small, open economy in which prices are roughly constant in hard currency terms, but are skyrocketing in terms of the rapidly depreciating domestic currency. In the extreme this could depict an economy that was effectively becoming dollarized.

He also refers to a recent report that prices have not fallen with the autumn harvest and that that the DPRK had suspended anthracite coal exports to China out of fear of domestic shortages.

In general I think the findings are plausible and I am glad that this number is finally out there for the public to reference.  I have just a couple of additional points of inquiry….

If the price and exchange rate data are from public sources, then they are probably geographically concentrated in the provinces that border China. Since there are significant barriers to arbitrage in the DPRK, I expect a large degree of regional price differentiation.  Hypothetically, what would be the effect on these findings of an increase in observations from the “southern” provinces (if that were possible)? If the data are not geographically concentrated and represent a national sample, what would we expect to see if these regressions were run for each province, and how would they compare to the aggregated findings?

A working paper in the making?

UPDATE: A comment from an individual who works with Mr. Noland:

Thanks for sharing this piece on post currency reform inflation. You raise some good points on the regionality of our pricing data. It is true that we don’t have a lot of observations from southern provinces, but it is not all northern either. We get our price data from a number of sources including, but not limited to, Daily NK Market Trends, NK Today reports, and various NGO publications. This gives us a good mixture of general country level price data as well as regional data from provinces such as Pyongyang, North & South Hamyung, North & South Pyongan, & Yanggang. Before the currency reform, we also had a good number of observation from southern areas including North Hwanghae & Gangwon.

Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard analyzed regional price differences in a previous paper, as well as discussing other issues such as the possible tendency to increase data collection during times of distress and the possibility that organizations might cherry-pick the data that they release, all of which could affect the statistical analysis of this data.

See the paper here (PDF).

Their analysis found that regional price differences are less systematic than one might expect.

On a related note, Ask a Korean also recently translated another Korean article by Ju Song-ha which deals with food prices in the DPRK. You must read it.



Rice price increasing in northern provinces

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

According to the Daily NK:

New information suggests that the price of rice across North Korea now stands at more than 3,000 won per kilo, the highest market price since the currency redenomination of November 2009.

A source from Yanggang Province told The Daily NK on Friday, “The price of a kilo of rice has finally hit 3,000 won, having been only 2,600 won at the start of October. The won has gone down against the Chinese Yuan too, with one Chinese Yuan worth 515 North Korean won.”

Yesterday, a source from Sinuiju revealed that the cost of rice there has also risen to 3,000 won a kilo, saying, “People are bewildered as to why the cost of food has gone up so much, even though even the corn harvest has been gathered.” Sinuiju is always among the cheapest place to buy rice in North Korea due to its proximity to the major Chinese trading city of Dandong.

The situation is particularly surprising because the arrival of the autumn harvest would ordinarily be expected to drive down grain prices, or at the very least hold them steady. However, this year has seen poor weather feed concerns over crop yields, leading to rising prices throughout August and September. The average price in July, 2,000 won, was 2,500 won by late August. The exchange rate for Chinese Yuan has also been rising.

Some are predicting that the price fluctuations will level off with the end of the autumn harvest, while others believe that prices will simply move with the exchange rate, meaning greater uncertainty.

Read the full story here:
Rice Price Spike Defying Expectations
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin