Monday, June 24, 2013

LTW - Loyalty Doubts, Cadillac Protests, & a Steamy Zuck Visit

1. National
1) North Korea turns to the U.S. for talks

Soon after calling off the June 12 high-level talks with South Korea after complaining the low rank of South Korean delegates, North Korea proposed talks with the U.S. on June 16. The official North Korean news agency said the aim is to “ease tension on the Korean Peninsula, establish regional peace, and realize the U.S. vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.” Caitlin Hayden, NSC spokeswoman, was not excited, saying “We have always favored dialogues, but those talks must involve North Korea living up to its obligations to the world.” Experts believe the dialogue offer is to drive a wedge among South Korea, the U.S. and China, which are teaming up to disarm Kim Jong-un.
My wife is watching the North Korean dialogue offer very carefully as a nation with a couple of nuke bombs is proposing nuclear disarmament discussion with the country that has thousands of them. If Obama does accept the offer from Kim Jong-un, my wife will offer Tiger Woods to co-author ‘100 ways to make perfect putts.’

2) A soccer player with controversial citizenship under probe
Jong Tae-se, a footballer of Samsung Blue Wings, is under investigation for violating National Security Law by voicing support for North Korea, for which he played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The investigation began when a right wing pundit accused Jong of making comments such as “I respect Kim Jong-il. I trust and will follow him. My fatherland is North Korea,” in a press interview during the World Cup. Jong, a second-generation Korean born in Japan, holds South Korean citizenship because his father does but went to Korean schools in Japan run by a pro-North Korean organization. He joined the North Korean national soccer team in 2007, playing for the country in South Africa in 2010. At the time, Jong earned permission to represent North Korea despite his South Korean citizenship thanks to mediation by FIFA. Some soccer fans campaigned to have Jong banned from playing in the South Korean league when Samsung Blue Wings made a contract with Jong early this year.
Sports and politics have to be separated. However, how many Americans would be O.K if an American born and raised in Saudi Arabia publicly makes a speech , saying “I respect Bin Laden. I trust and will follow him,” and then SF 49ers make a contract with him to play in NFL.

2. Economy
1) Zuckerberg meets with Park in his virgin visit to Korea

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with President Park Geun-hey in her series of meetings with global IT leaders to seek advice for her vision of a ‘creative economy’, for which Park has pledged to shift Korea’s economic landscape from smokestack industries to high-tech venture companies to create more jobs and growth. Zuckerberg showed his support for Parks’ economic policies and promised more investment in Facebook’s operation in Korea. Zuckerbeg later visited Samsung’s headquarter in Seoul for cooperation in the mobile business. Zuckerberg made right moves, by taking his one hand out of the pocket in shaking hands with Park, and carrying a Samsung Galaxy phone during the visit to Samsung.

Zuckerberg was really hot at the Blue House when he met with Park. Park has ordered all the air conditioner off at the Blue House as a showcase to save energy, and Zuckerg’s visit was no exception. The temperature went up to 33 degrees (92F) at the meeting, and poor Zuckerberg probably vowed himself, “It will be my first and the last meeting this damn lady.”  Park’s frugality comes from her father who also had banned air conditioner during the summer. A U.S. arms dealer visited Blue House one hot day in early 1970’s to thank her father, Park Jung-hee, for the business deal made. The dealer gave some money to Park Jung-hee, suggesting Park buy an air conditioner for the Blue House. Park took the money with gratitude, and put it in the dealer’s back pocket on his way out, saying “I am O.K. without the air conditioner. Please take this money, and give us more M16 rifles.”

2) Korea picks Taurus cruise missiles
Korean Department of Defense announced its plan to buy 200 Taurus air-to-surface missiles from Germany at $1M per missile, ditching U.S. made AGM-158 Jassm that was cheaper than the Taurus at $700K. With a range of 500km(310 miles), the Taurus missile can strike a bunker in Pyongyang from Daejon, 150km south of Seoul. The Taurus is usually fired from F-15K, and can penetrate through six meters of reinforced concrete. It has only 10m margin in accuracy

Koreans respect Germans for many things. German cars are #1 import models in Korea. German machines are rated as the best among Korean manufacturing companies. Koreans encourage Japan to learn from Germans on how to make an apology on WWII. Total of 103 Germans have won Nobel Prizes, while ex-president Kim Dae-jung is the only Korean with a Nobel Prize. The only time Koreans can laugh at Germans is when they watch LPGA tournaments.

3. Auto Industry
1) GM Korea union in protest over Cadillac

GM Korea union got angry at the company’s decision to provide imported Cadillacs for its 12 executives to replace locally produced mid-size Alpheons. In protest, the union is putting warning stickers on Cadillacs trying to enter the plant that read “This car’s entrance to our company steps on the pride of our GM Korea labor union members.” GM Korea management said Cadillac is a brand of GM just like Chevrolet, and it deserves to be promoted. GM has sold only 133 Cadillacs from Jan to May this year, only 0.22% of the import market. While the whole import car market has seen 19.4% YOY increase in sales for the first five months this year, Cadillac went the other way, showing a 36.7% slide. GM is hoping to boost the name value of Cadillac in Korea to sell over 2,000 Cadillacs within 3 years.
I am all for GM Korea union’s logic. “This Louis Vuitton handbag’s entrance to my apartment steps on the pride of our Korean handbag industry workers.” Too bad, my wife has a firm goal of making it another record year for Louis Vuitton Korea.

Monday, June 10, 2013

LTW - MonAmi's 50th, NK Softening, BWM Center

1. National
1) Kim Jong-un finally raises white flag

South Korean president did not budge despite vicious rhetoric from Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un’s envoy to Xi Jinping got a cold shoulder in Beijing last month. The military chiefs of South Korea and China agreed to expand strategic cooperation to force North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons. Obama and Xi Jinping met in California over the weekend, agreeing to make it nuclear free in North Korea. All these have forced Kim Jong-un to wave white flags, as North Korea suddenly proposed high level inter-Korea talks on June 6, leaving the date and location at South Korea’s decision. The working level negotiation occurred on June 8 at Panmunjom in DMZ to decide the high level talk to take place on June 12 in Seoul. The topics would be reopening of Kaesong Industrial zone and Kumgang Mountain tour in North Korea. It would be the first high level talks in 6 years. 

The North Korean negotiation team in Panmunjom was headed by a woman, the first time a woman was the leader in the inter-Korea negotiation. It might be a tongue- in-cheek from Kim Jong-un. “South Koreans elect a woman as the leader of the country for the first time? I elect a woman as the leader of a negotiation team for the first time.”

2) Inbee Park wins another LPGA major title
World rank #1 Inbee Park just won Wegmans LPGA Championship after beating Catriona Matthew in sudden death playoff at Locust Hill in New York. It was her 3rd major title win after U.S. Open (2008) and Kraft Nabisco (Apr, 2013), her 7th victories in her LPGA career, and 4th this year.  There were 6 other Korean girls in the Top 10 in Locust Hill, 7 if to include Michelle Wie whose parents are Koreans. Though Park is #1 in the world, she has had trouble in finding sponsors until May when she managed to have a Korean bank, while more attractive Michelle Wie with only two LPGA wins so far has major sponsors like Nike.

There are only three Korean men who have won PGA tournaments; KJ Choi, Y.E Yang, and Sang-moon Bae.  How many Korean women have won LPGA titles then?  Let’s see. Seri Pak, Mihyeon Kim, Grace Park, Jiyai Shin, NaYeon Choi,……..  Well, it would be faster to count the number of LPGA winners who were not Koreans in the last 15 years since Seri Pak’s first win in 1998.

2. Economy
1) Ex-president’s son suspected of bank accounts in tax haven

Newstapa, a website run by the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism, said that Chun Jae-kook, the eldest son of disgraced ex-president Chun Doo-hwan, established a paper company in the British Virgin Islands in 2004. Prosecutors promised to investigate the case, which can shed a light on an ongoing probe of slush funds amassed by the former president, who has failed to pay fines from previous convictions , claiming he has only 290,000 won in his pocket. Established in 2012, Newstapa said there are minimum 245 Korean celebrities ranging from conglomerate executives to figures from academia and showbiz, and has been revealing the names two times a week, not all at once, possibly to boost its name recognition from lengthy exposure to the public. So far, Newstapa made public 16 celebrities with funny bank accounts in four interviews in two weeks, and has 229 more in the back pocket.   
My wife has shown quite interest each time Newstapa released names with banks in Virgin Islands. I could notice her disappointed look when my name didn’t come out in the interviews.

2) A legendary pen marks its 50th anniversary
The MonAmi 153 ballpoint pen is much like Bic in the U.S.  A manufacturer of stationery items, MonAmi said it sold 3.6 billion of the 153 ballpoint pens its debut in 1963.  If all the pens were laid in a line, they would stretch 486,000km(301,986 miles), or about 12 times around the globe. Song Sam-suck, MonAmi’s founder, met with an employee of Japanese stationery supplier, Uchida Yoko, who used a ballpoint pen at an industry fair in 1962, and he thought the Japanese pen could revolutionize Korean way of pen writing with dipped ink. Though 60 years have passed, MonAmi keeps making its 153pens whose design remains the same as it was 50 years ago.

MonAmi means Mon Ami, ‘My Friend’ in French. What about 153? Two stories. One is that the price was set at 15 won at the time of launch and the pen was the 3rd product from MonAmi. The other is that the founder, who was a devout Christian, thought about 153 fish Peter caught at one net throw after he was coached by Jesus. (John 21:11)   Monami 153 pen sells at 450 won (40cents) now, but the name has not changed to 4503. So the story of Peter catching 153 fish makes more sense.

3. Auto Industry
1) Bosch to invest $151M in Korea

Hermann Kaess, the president of Bosch Korea, said the company will invest 170 billion won ($151 million) this year to expand facilities in Korea in Daejeon, 170km south of Seoul. Bosch invested 60 billion won last year for gasoline direct injection system, and will be spending additional 170 billion this year for production capacity increase to 6 million fuel injection systems annually, and additional 400 jobs. The investment was a bit surprise as Bosch had rough time with Hyundai last year when Hyundai Motor took over Kefico, a joint venture with Bosch that has made key engine controls components. Bosch Korea had 2.03 trillion won sales last year.
With the eye popping growth of Hyundai/Kia, many foreign auto suppliers are trying to make a virgin contract with Hyundai without much success.  There are three easy ways to get this done.  Propose products no one else in Korea can make. Not possible? Then sell your products at half the price the local suppliers are selling. Still impossible? Then, have your CEO sing songs at Karaoke bar with Hyundai Chairman.

2) BMW builds a driving center in Korea
BMW broke ground for its first driving center in Asia near Incheon International Airport. The driving center will be built on 240,000 square meters of land (59.3 acres) at a cost of 70 billion won ($62 million) with a 2.6 kilometer (1.6-mile) track made up of six driving courses. BMW Korea plans to set up cultural and educational spaces showing environmentally friendly vehicles and technologies inside the center. The company added that the 12,000-square-meter recreational park will be open to everyone, including airline passengers from nearby Incheon Airport. BMW has been No.1 import for many years, selling 28,000 units last year. It was only 3,000 less than all the Big 3 and Japanese makers combined.

While only the affluent can afford to own BMWs in other nations, most of the Koreans are using BMWs for their public transportation; Bus, Metro, and Walking.