Archive for the ‘Debt’ Category

DPRK owes ROK appx $1billion

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea owes South Korea more than W1 trillion in terms of food and other loans, it emerged Tuesday (US$1=W1,092). The North has to start repaying the debt from June next year, but given its economic difficulties and strained inter-Korean relations it is unlikely that Seoul will see a penny.

According to the Unification Ministry, the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations gave the North 2.4 million tons of rice and 200,000 tons of corn from 2000 to 2007 on condition of repayment over a period of 20 years with a 10-year grace period at a 1 percent annual interest. The loans amount to US$720.04 million, with the interest reaching $155.28 million.

The South Korean government also spent W585.2 billion from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to re-link cross-border railways and roads from 2002 to 2008. Of the total, W149.4 billion worth of materials and equipment for construction on the North Korean side are also loans to be repaid on the same conditions.

Besides, Seoul lent the North $80 million worth of raw materials for production of textile, footwear, and soap in 2007 and 2008. At the time, the North paid back 3 percent of the loan with 1,005 tons of zinc ingots worth $2.4 million, leaving a $77.6 million balance.

All told, the principal on these loans amounts to W1.02 trillion and the total debt including interest to over W1.2 trillion.

The first repayment of $5.83 million for the food loans provided between October 2000 and March 2001 is due on June 7 next year.

A ministry official said, “The amount has already been included in next year’s revenue plan, on the assumption that it will be paid back. If the North fails to pay, it will be deemed outstanding balance.”

Aside from the food and economic loans, the South also lent the North W1.37 trillion through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization from 1998 to 2006 for the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor. The money was raised by issuing government bonds. The total amount of all loans adds up to W2.25 trillion, if the accrued interest of W877.2 billion is counted.

But since the KEDO project was scrapped in 2006, there is no way for the South to get the money back. It seems likely that the total amount will be handled as “irredeemable government bonds” that have to be made up for with tax money.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang Owes Seoul Huge Amounts of Money
Choson Ilbo
2011-4-20

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DPRK’s external debt

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

According to the Korea Herald:

North Korea watchers in the West estimate the North’s outstanding debts to be around $12 billion, two thirds of which is owed to former communist states.

In 2008, a ruling Grand National Party lawmaker had suggested allowing North Korea to pay back its loans from South Korea with mineral resources or development rights.

Rep. Kwon Young-se said during a parliamentary audit two years ago that North Korea’s debts amount to $18 billion, nearly as much as the country’s economic output in the year 2007.

About five percent of it, or $920 million, was borrowed from South Korea.

“Loans for North Korea’s economic development from socialist countries in the 1950s and 60s, and Western nations in the 1970s have accumulated with overdue interest on outstanding debts,” Kwon said.

“North Korea’s per capita debt is around 930,000 won, slightly less than the country’s annual per capita income of 1.07 million won.”

Last year, a top South Korean government official said Seoul could pay for tours to North Korea with commodities instead of cash.

He said the issue of paying cash to North Korea had to be reconsidered based on the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which slapped tightened sanctions on the reclusive state as punishment for its nuclear and missile programs.

The crossborder tours have been suspended for the past two years after a South Korean tourist was shot to death in the North’s mountain resort.

Read the full sotry here:
North Korea cornered with snowballing debts
Korea Herald
Kim So-hyun
8/17/2010

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DPRK asks Hungary to write off debt

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

According to the Financial Times:

Hungary has revealed that it was asked by North Korea to write-off more than 90 per cent of its outstanding debt in the latest indication of the secretive totalitarian regime’s financial distress.

Hungary’s economy ministry told the Financial Times that North Korean negotiators had tabled the request in November 2008 during a meeting in Pyongyang.

“They asked [us] to take good consideration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s current economic difficulties and asked for cancellation of over 90 per cent of the total debt amount,” the ministry said.

The revelation follows a report in the FT last week that Pyongyang had asked the Czech Republic to write-off 95 per cent of its Kc186m ($10m) debt.

The cash-strapped totalitarian state offered to settle 5 per cent of the debt in ginseng, a root that is said to combat lethargy and impotence.

North Korea appears to be struggling to meet its financial obligations owing to the pressures of a moribund domestic economy and international trade sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programme.

Following the mysterious sinking of a South Korean warship in March, Washington vowed to further crack down on North Korea’s international financing, money laundering and narcotics operations.

Pyongyang’s outstanding debts are estimated at about $12bn, about two-thirds of which is owed to former communist states.

Its Hungarian debt emerged from a trade surplus between the two countries, mostly in the period before the fall of the Iron Curtain, an official said.

The total debt is 29.6m clearing roubles – an accounting unit used in the former Soviet Bloc.

Hungary said North Korea had agreed in principle to pay the debt in cash, with partial cancellation.

Details such as the clearing-rouble conversion rate and the size of the cancellation must still be settled, however.

Officials were unable to say when the negotiations would resume. Ginseng was not mentioned during previous talks.

Read the full sotry here:
Hungary reveals North Korean debt request
Financial Times
Chris Bryant
8/18/2010

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DPRK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt

Monday, August 9th, 2010

UPDATE 8/9/2010: According to Yonhap:

A state-run North Korean bank has lost a lawsuit for not paying back a loan it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank nine years ago, the New York district court said Friday.

The District Court of New York confirmed it ordered the Foreign Trade Bank of Korea to pay compensations of just under US$6.77 million to the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in a ruling made earlier in the week.

And as Josh notes: “By which they really mean the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

Some additional case information may be found here.

As an aside, North Korea also recently lost another court case in the US.  Read more here.

ORIGINAL POST (5/6/2010): According to KBS:

The Taiwanese bank filed its lawsuit to claim some five million dollars in interest and principal on August 25th, 2001.

It is unclear whether the North Korean bank will repay the Taiwanese plaintiff, but North Korea experts say this will at least add to the crunch on North Korean finances.

Some reference information can be found here.

According to the Korea Times:

A state-run North Korean bank is facing trial in the United States for failing to pay a $5 million loan that it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank in 2001, according to sources Wednesday.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) of North Korea to make a court appearance on May 17 and submit a proposed case management plan and scheduling order.

The FTB reportedly borrowed $5 million from the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in Taiwan on Aug. 25, 2001 on the promise to amortize the principal and interest in three installments by Sept. 15, 2004.

No repayment was made until December 2008, when the FTB paid the MICB $100,000 to cover some of the interest. The North Korean bank has thus far paid off a total of $462,000 to the MICB, still owing $1.78 million in interest and $4.7 million in principal.

“It has been almost unprecedented for North Korea to be sued in a commercial dispute, though there were occasions that the North was asked to stand in U.S. courts for terrorist activities,” an official of the South Korean Consulate General in New York told Yonhap News.

The official said the litigation will hamper Pyongyang’s recent move to aggressively attract foreign investment in an effort to revive its flagging economy, given that obviously doubt will arise over its debt repayment capacity.

Despite a recent currency reform, the North’s economy remains in a parlous state as the U.N. sanctions have cut off virtually all sources of foreign currency.

Seoul has also suspended tours to the North’s popular tourist destination of Mt. Geumgang, following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the mountain resort in July 2008. The tours were a cash cow for the North, generating more than $500 million between 1998 and 2008.

On May 1, the FTB’s official exchange rate was 96.9 won per dollar, but it was traded at 180 won in Pyongyang and higher in other areas, demonstrating the instability of the North’s economy, according to the sources.

Since established in 1959, the bank has served as the reclusive regime’s main foreign exchange bank, they said. It has branch offices in France, Australia, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Read the full story here:
NK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt
Korea Times
5/5/2010

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DPRK seeks to repay debt in ginseng

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

UPDATE: This story was picked up by the Financial Times (8/11/2010):

North Korea has offered the Czech Republic 20 tonnes of ginseng in lieu of payment for some of its debts.

However, Prague has turned down the deal, instead suggesting that Pyongyang pays in the valuable mineral zinc, which can be resold on international markets.

North Korea owes the Czech Republic $10m from the days when the Czech Republic was under communist rule and the two countries traded with each other regularly. Communist Czechoslovakia was a leading supplier of trucks, trams and machinery to North Korea, creating a large pile of debt.

Pyongyang reportedly offered $500,000 worth of ginseng, a root which is reputed to boost memory, stamina and libido, as a down payment.

However, consumption of ginseng in the European country is low, with just 1.4 tonnes used each year.

North Korea’s economy is struggling as international sanctions tighten and it hopes to be able to barter its way out of handing over valuable cash.

Non-cash transactions between socialist countries is common, with Cuba sending Venezuela doctors in exchange for discounted oil.

A Czech government spokesman has said that the countries were in negotiation over how the debt would be paid.

“We have been trying to convince them to send, for instance, a shipment of zinc,” the deputy finance minister told the MF Dnes newspaper.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has offered to pay its debt to the Czech government with ginseng, according to a local Czech daily newspaper.

MF DNES, a daily newspaper based in Prague, reported last Saturday that North Korea has recently suggested to the Czech Finance Ministry that it would pay 5 percent of its debt — approximately $500,000 — with ginseng.

“We are trying to persuade them (North Korea) to give us, for example a bulk of Zinc instead, so that we could sell it to someone else,” Tomas Zidek, deputy finance minister, told the newspaper in Czech.

North Korea is believed to have a significant amount of zinc in deposits.

The paper went on to say the consumption of ginseng in the Czech Republic is very small, and it only imported 1.4 tons last year. The amount of ginseng worth $500,000 will be roughly 400 tons, securing the supply for more than 200 years.

But, to Czech’s disappointment, North Korea seemed to have made up its mind, as it sent a delegation with samples of ginseng.

North Korea is known to be Czech’s 10th biggest debtor, which goes back to the communist governments. The North bought many trams and vehicles from former Czechoslovakia.

Read the full story here:
North Korea wants to pay back debt in ginseng
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong
7/26/2010

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“Let’s speculate on North Korean debt!”

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

UPDATE 1 (2011-12-21): The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones Newswire) points out movement on North Korean debt following the death of Kim Jong-il:

Saturday’s death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has given a lift to that country’s only openly traded securities, a batch of bonds that haven’t received a payment in almost three decades.

The defaulted bonds, which were created in 1997 when French bank BNP repackaged a series of non-performing syndicated bank loans that were granted to North Korea in the seventies, have suddenly sparked interest among speculators. The sporadically traded bonds, which trade at a deep discount to their face value, saw a tick up this week and were recently quoted at between 14 and 18 cents on the dollar, compared with 13 to 15 cents, according to London-based sales and brokerage house Exotix.

Those who have bought the bonds are making nothing less than a bet that the transfer of power to Kim’s son Kim Jong Eun will usher in a moment akin to that of the Berlin Wall’s collapse for the tightly controlled communist country.

“Investors are looking at this as an unlimited option trade with enormous potential gains,” said Andrew Chappell, head of European, African and Middle Eastern fixed income trading and sales at brokerage house Exotix in London, who says that inquiries into the bonds have increased in recent days.

According to Chappell’s calculations, investors’ claims extend to the principal and interest accrued from 1984 when the original loans defaulted. That amounts to anywhere between 300% to 600% in unpaid interest.

The premise that’s attracted hedge funds and pension funds is that North Korea can’t exist in isolation forever, and like other former communist countries will find a need to tap the international markets for funds.

That’s why the death of Kim Jong Il has opened a rare opportunity that bets on these bond could pay off. Although there’s no indication of what the structure of the government will look like under Kim Jong Eun, or of the direction it will take, some observers expect the U.S. and other western powers to use this opportunity to bring North Korea into the international fold.

By all accounts, North Korea is in very poor shape financially. A significant segment of the population is said to be dying of starvation. The country’s economy pulls in a meager $29 billion in annual gross domestic product, compared with $1.117 trillion in South Korea, according to IHS Global Insight estimates for 2011. That gaping shortfall in material well-being, the optimists reckon, will eventually drive North Korea to make good with the international community and seek foreign investment. But first it will have to clear its unpaid debts.

In fact, it was a similarly desperate need for funds that initially drove North Korea to borrow a total of 680 million Deutsche Marks and 455 million Swiss francs in syndicated loans from nearly 100 foreign banks in the late 1970s. By 1984, the country had defaulted on these loans and they were left dormant for more than a decade. But in the late 1990s, some of the banks wanted to capitalize on hopes at that time for a reunification between North Korea and South Korea, so they parceled some of the nonperforming loans into two tranches of DEM293 million and CHF217 million.

BNP, now called BNP Paribas, was the manager on the deal. It created a special purpose vehicle called NK Debt Corp., incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, to hold the loans and then sold rights to them to investors.

Over the years, even as North Korea has again distanced itself from the international community and toyed with nuclear ambitions, interest in the zero-coupon no-income bond has waxed and waned among a select few buyers interested in frontier markets or risky bets. As if passing the hot potato, fund managers have been buying and holding these bonds for a few years and then exchanging them for something else, Chappell said.

The holdings are now concentrated among a dozen or so blue-chip pension fund managers and hedge funds, he said, but declined to name them.

Franklin Templeton Emerging Market Debt Opportunities Fund, which is allowed to invest in defaulted debt, confirmed that it holds about $4.25 million in nominal value of the Deutsche mark-denominated bonds. It declined to comment further.

“These investors are not saying the bond has to pay off to make money,” said Tim Slaughter, head of fixed income at Auerbach Grayson, an agency brokerage in New York. “For them, if the price goes up from 14 cents to 16 cents it’s a good return on a $5 million investment. Investors are not necessarily looking for North Korea to reconcile with South Korea.”

But others say this speculative game is simply not worth the risk.

“The price on North Korean debt is too high in the sense there are so many alternatives in frontier debt that are actually paying coupons and redemptions that are trading at attractive levels,” said Morten Bugge, chief investment officer at Global Evolution A/S, a Denmark-based hedge fund that had held these North Korean bonds in the early years.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Leadership Transition Draws Brave Debt Buyers
Dow Jones Newswire
Prabha Natarajan and Erin McCarthy
2011-12-22

ORIGINAL POST (2010-3-11): According to Businessweek:

BNP Paribas SA, France’s biggest bank, in 1997 created bonds denominated in Deutsche marks and Swiss francs secured on non-performing loans owed by the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The notes mature today, and Exotix plans to issue new ones with about a 10-year tenor.

“There are very few investments left in the world like this,” Andrew Chappell, head of London emerging market fixed- income for Exotix, a broker specializing in distressed securities, said in a telephone interview. “The North Korean bonds are very cheap,” they may rise on signs of improved international relations and they are easier to trade than the underlying loans, he said.

President Kim Il Sung drove North Korea to become the first communist nation to default 34 years ago by spending almost a third of gross domestic product on its military. The United Nations toughened sanctions on son Kim Jong Il’s government after it detonated a second nuclear device in May, deepening an economic crisis that forced North Korea to revalue its currency in November by removing two zeros from the face value of the won.

“Investors have good reason to hold the notes even by extending them,” said Dong Yong Sueng, a senior fellow in the economic security team at the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul. “They hope that the South Korean government may take over North Korean debts and repay them if the communist state collapses or the regime changes.”

About 320 million marks and 240 million francs ($225 million) of the zero-coupon 1997 bonds are outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Exotix last quoted them at 12.75 percent of par value as of March 8 from 11.5 percent a month earlier and 33 percent in December 2007.

While prices that low may be attractive to investors willing to take a five- or 10-year bet, “there are just so many better opportunities for investing in high-risk assets,” Richard Segal, director of emerging markets fixed-income at Knight Libertas Ltd., said in a phone interview from London.

“I don’t see much value in the notes even at 10 or 11 percent of par because I see no willingness of North Korea to reschedule the underlying loans and no willingness of South Korea to pay them off short of unification,” he said. That’s “unlikely for a long time.”

North Korea is overhauling its legal system in a bid to attract as much as $400 billion in foreign investment over the next decade, almost 20 times current GDP, South Korea’s MBC television reported on March 4.

Read the full story here:
North Korea bonds due today spur exotix bet on political change
Businessweek
Jungmin Hong
2010-3-11

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DPRK external debt approaches 100% of estimated GDP

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

According to Yonhap:

North Korea owes a total of $18 billion to 30 different countries, including Russia and China, said Kwon Young-se of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), citing estimates from the Unification Ministry.

The amount is almost equal to North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) for last year, which totaled 24.7 trillion won ($18.4 billion).

South Korea has loaned roughly 1.19 trillion won to the North, equivalent to nearly five percent of Pyongyang ‘s total foreign debt.

“North Korea’s foreign debt is the result of the accumulation of unpaid trade bills and loans that it received from socialist states in the 1950s and 60s and from the Western world in the 70s to develop its economy,” Kwon said.

“The volume of foreign debt is expected to continue to rise due to the interest added to unpaid debts, although that can fluctuate depending on the result of negotiations with foreign creditors,” he added. (Yonhap)

According to the CIA world factbook, however, North Korea’s total external debt was estimated at $12.5 billion in 2001.  If I put aside the fact that the South Korean Ministry of Unification and the US CIA are probably reporting dollar figures using different basis years, North Korea’s external debt has increased increased nearly 47% in the last seven years.  I do not think this drastic increase could be attributed to the accumulation of interest arrears dating back to the 1950s.

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