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Recovery Signs Turn Korean Bonds Into Asia’s Worst Performer

Hooyeon Kim and Masaki Kondo
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Recovery Signs Turn Korean Bonds Into Asia’s Worst Performer

(Bloomberg) -- Investors may have flocked to South Korean bonds this year, but signs of an economic recovery and the potential for record debt sales saw them end last month as Asia’s worst performer.

Korean government bonds lost 2.1% in October, the worst-monthly performance since November 2016, according to a Bloomberg Barclays index. It was the third-biggest drop among 46 sovereign markets tracked by Bloomberg, and the biggest in Asia.

“Easing external uncertainties since the end of August along with lower expectations for central banks to ease further has suddenly weakened the demand for Korean bonds,” said Koo Hyeyoung, fixed-income analyst at Mirae Asset Daewoo Co. The amount of debt that are expected to be issued by the government next year to help cover the deficit has also contributed to the sell-off, she said.

Foreign investors have poured over $41 billion into Korean bonds this year, the most in emerging Asia after China, as the Sino-American trade war and a tech slowdown spurred the Bank of Korea to lower rates. The tide may be turning with Samsung Electronics Co., a pillar of the economy, reporting better-than-expected earnings last week.

Consumer prices also showed signs of recovery in October, staying flat after a 0.4% slide in September. On the supply side, investors are concerned about plans for a debt-fueled stimulus.

The finance ministry said in August it will sell as much as 130.6 trillion won ($112.2 billion) of bonds in 2020 based on its budget proposal. That compares with a planned 99.6 trillion won of issuance this year, and would be the largest quota in history if passed by parliament.

The yield of 10-year Korean debt has risen to 1.8% as of 12:56 p.m. Seoul time on Monday, more than 60 basis points from its August low. The extra yield investors demand to hold 10-year notes over three-year securities has climbed more than 20 basis points since the budget proposal to the highest in almost a year.

The move also paces a broader global bond sell-off as signs of progress in U.S.-China trade talks dampen demand for haven assets.

Korea’s benchmark 10-year yield could break higher into a range between 2.5% and 3% should Washington and Beijing agree on additional trade deals, according to DBS Bank Ltd. Till then, the yields could be capped at 2% as investors remain cautious about an economic rebound, said Duncan Tan, FX and interest rates strategist at the Singapore-based bank.

“Korean yields were always more likely to see a bigger bounce compared to rest of Asia,” said Tan. “This is just the start.”

(Updates seventh paragraph with latest bond prices)

To contact the reporters on this story: Hooyeon Kim in Seoul at hkim592@bloomberg.net;Masaki Kondo in Singapore at mkondo3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tan Hwee Ann at hatan@bloomberg.net, Cormac Mullen

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