A university student, a member of a club studying cryptocurrencies, attends a meeting at a university in Seoul, South Korea, December 20, 2017. Picture taken on December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
SEOUL (Reuters) – Hackers have stolen millions, lawmakers are pushing for new taxes and regulations, and a leading financial official has called them a “Ponzi scheme”.
But that hasn’t cooled a frenzy for bitcoin and other virtual currencies that is gripping young investors in South Korea.
On a recent weeknight at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, more than a dozen students crammed into a classroom to share tips on investing in so-called cryptocurrencies, which have driven tales of fantastic returns for savvy investors.
The group sat in rapt silence – broken only by a sudden shout of “there was just a big jump!” from someone monitoring his virtual currencies – as one student gave a presentation on how to read financial data and predict future trends.
“I no longer want to become a math teacher,” said 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon, who founded the club, Cryptofactor. “I’ve studied this industry for more than 10 hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.”
Driven in part by a dismal economic outlook – including an unemployment rate almost three times the national average – young South Koreans are flocking to virtual currencies despite the risks and warnings from officials, analysts say.
It’s a trend that has caught the eye of South Korean leaders and regulators, who announced new measures this week to regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading within the country.
Concerns about security and thefts of cryptocurrencies by hackers have also been rising. A South Korean cryptocurrency exchange recently shut down and filed for bankruptcy after being hacked for the second time this year.
“Young people and students are rushing into virtual currency trading to earn huge profits in just a short period of time,” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon said in November. “It is time for the government to take action as it could lead to serious pathological phenomena if left unchecked.”
Eoh said the talk of more regulation had not dented his plans, especially after making what he said was a 20-fold gain on his investments over the past six months.
He said that many students were bringing laptops to class to track the movements of their investments and participate in actual trading. “Even when professors are giving lectures right in front of them,” he said.
Younger investors have especially gravitated toward so-called “altcoins”, or virtual currencies other than bitcoin, which often trade at much lower values, analysts say.
“Since young people are more mobile-friendly, they can actually make more out of altcoin investments as long as they are able to discriminate gems from pebbles,” said Kim Jin-hwa, one of the leaders of the Korea Blockchain Industry Association, an association of 14 virtual currency exchanges.
Iota, one of the fast-gaining altcoins, was traded at $0.82 in late November, but now stands at $3.89, a gain of 374.4 percent, according to Coinmarketcap.com. Energo (TSL), another type of altcoin, gained 400 percent during the same period.
Some young investors say they don’t sleep until after 2 a.m., when there is a lull in the cryptocurrency markets as investors in places like South Korea and Japan log off.
Members of the club say they call each other to make important decisions together, and see information sharing as key to navigating the volatile cryptocurrency markets.
“I literally knew nothing about cryptocurrencies or the economy,” said Lee Ji-woo, a 22-year-old sports industry major. “Everyone here has taught me a lot.”
It’s now emboldened her to dream of a different future.
“I can have two jobs maybe, one as an athlete and another as an investor,” she said.
Intense competition for jobs in South Korea is likely helping to drive interest in virtual currencies among young South Koreans, especially as they see others reaping big gains, said Shin Dong-hwa, head of the Korea Blockchain Exchange.
“Whenever they go onto social network services, they are easily exposed to so many examples of young people around their age earning huge money,” he said.
But some in South Korea’s financial establishment say those hopes may be unfounded.
Kim Yong-beom, vice chairman of the Financial Services Commission, said Monday that the only reason prices were going up was because each investor expected the next buyer down the line to pay a higher price. “That really is a Ponzi scheme,” he said.
Others say students seem more focused on ways to get rich quick rather than on the underlying financial or technological values of digital currency.
“There’s no way to measure their true value yet but students are just going for them, believing that they can earn a big fortune in just a snap,” said Yun Chang-hyun, economics professor at the University of Seoul.
Members of Cryptofactor, however, say they founded the club because of a lack of dedicated cryptocurrency classes on campus and see their efforts as a way to move beyond speculation to informed investing.
“I realised that I was actually speculating rather than investing before I came to this club,” said Kim Myung-jae, a 19-year-old fine arts student, adding that she was especially attracted to altcoins.
“Now that I fully discuss which one to invest in with the members, I‘m actually looking at the true value.”
Additional reporting by Yuna Park, Cynthia Kim; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Philip McClellan
North Korea leader sincere, must be rewarded for move to abandon nuclear weapons: South Korean president
FILE PHOTO – South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk during a luncheon, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 21, 2018. KCNA via REUTERS
PARIS (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is sincere and really means to abandon nuclear weapons, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a French newspaper, adding that the international community needed to reward him for that.
Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged at a landmark summit in Singapore in June to work toward denuclearization. But the agreement was short on specifics and talks have made little headway since, with the North refusing to declare its nuclear weapons and facilities or agree to a concrete timeline.
“This year I have discussed in depth with Kim for hours. These meetings have convinced me that he has taken the strategic decision to abandon his nuclear weapon,” Moon told Le Figaro in an interview before a state visit to Paris.
Moon is to meet President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.
While Pyongyang has stopped nuclear and missile tests this year, it failed to keep its promise to allow international inspections of its dismantling of the Punggye-ri site in May, stirring criticism that the move could be reversed.
But Moon said Kim was “sincere, calm and polite” and “felt frustrated by the international community’s continuing mistrust”.
“It is now time to respond to these efforts that were hard to agree to,” Moon said. “We need to assure Kim Jong Un that he took the right decision in deciding to denuclearize and we need to accompany him in his wish for a durable and solid peace.”
Washington wants concrete action, such as a full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, before meeting Pyongyang’s demands, including an official end to the Korean war and the easing of international sanctions.
Moon said he hoped another Trump-Kim summit would allow the two leaders to go further than the statements they made at their first meeting in Singapore.
“Declaring an end to the Korea war would be a start to establishing a regime of peace,” he said, also calling for the United States to take “reliable corresponding measures to guarantee the security of the regime”.
“We could also in the future discuss the easing of sanctions, in accordance with progress on denuclearization,” he added.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander; editing by David Stamp
Koreas’ first ladies visit Pyongyang children’s hospital, music university
North Korea’s First Lady Ri Sol Ju (Left) and South Korea’s First Lady Kim Jung-sook (Right) | REUTERS
South Korean first lady Kim Jung-sook visited a children’s hospital and music university with her North Korean counterpart Ri Sol Ju in Pyongyang on Tuesday (September 18), a tour that took place on the sidelines their husbands’ inter-Korean summit.
Ri accompanied Kim’s visit to the Okryu Children’s Hospital and the Kim Won Gyun University of Music, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were holding their meeting in the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
South Korea’s music producer Kim Hyung-suk, singer Ailee and boy band member Zico from Block B joined the first ladies’ tour to the hospital and music college.
The footage provided by the Pyongyang Press Corps showed Kim greeting the hospital workers with Ri before watching an orchestra performance at the university.
On Wednesday (September 19), Kim is scheduled to visit the Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace, an educational institution for art, music, and sports for young talent. It is unknown Ri will be accompanying Kim for the second day of the state visit. — Reuters