Monday, January 27, 2014

L2W: The Big Leak, Hockey Citizens, & 'Comfort' Era Ending

1. National
1) A ‘comfort woman’ dies, only 55 known survivors left  
Hwang Geum-ja, former comfort woman during WWII, died of illnesses at the age of 90 on Jan 26. Born in Hamgyong Province in what is now North Korean territory, Hwang was sent to work as a comfort woman from 1940 at the age of 16.  Without a regular job, she made a living by collecting and selling recyclable bottles and papers, and government subsidy of 400,000 won ($370) a month.  Despite her being poor, she donated 100 million won she has saved in her lifetime to a scholarship fund. With her death, there are only 55 known comfort women left.
As the prostitution is the oldest job in the world, I asked my father born in 1935 what really happened. According to him, there was a push from the colonial government to find young women in the village to” work for the nation,” but those married were exempted. That was the reason my aunt, my father’s older sister, had to get married at the age of 15. With everyone trying to find a reason not to go, no woman in the village was sent to work as a comfort woman. To my father’s assessment, there was no ‘gun on the head’ or kidnapping type coercion, but the colonial government was involved to recruit young women to work for the soldiers.

2) Two Canadian hockey player become Korean citizens   
Michael Swift, 27, and Bryan Young, 28, were granted South Korean citizenship, which gives the two Canadians the opportunity to play in the national ice hockey team. The Ministry of Justice recognized them as “exceptional personnel,” approving their applications for naturalization to a special immigration law that allows foreign nationals with exceptional talents to hold dual citizenship. The Korean Olympic Committee suggested their naturalization in December to improve the national team’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea. So far, 46 foreigners have obtained citizenship under the special naturalization process
Impressed with South Korea’s decision to naturalize foreigners to improve its Olympic team’s performance, Kim Jong-un might want to copy, prodding Dennis Rodman to play for North Korean basketball team in 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Monkey see, monkey do.

2. Economy
1) Personal information leak from credit card companies
Korean credit card companies are in total chaos as the prosecutors’ office found that an employee of the Korea Credit Bureau, a credit rating firm, illegally leaked 104 million pieces of cardholders’ personal and financial information to people marketing bank loans. The KCB employee carried the info via USB drives. The Finance Supervisory Service issued a warning to the public to be suspicious of any calls supposedly coming from financial companies, saying fraudsters might take advantage of the bad publicity about the leaks to cheat people, more like phishing. The three credit card companies directly hit were KB Card, NH Card and Lotte Card. As Koreans hold multiple credit cards, most of Koreans, including President Park and my wife, became the victims of the Big Leak.
My wife ran at the speed faster than Carl Lewis to a Lotte Card office to cancel the credit card at the news of the Big Leak last week. It was still only half the speed she ran at the news of Big Sale at the Gucci store in Lotte Department.

2) Korea to become #2 chip producer after the U.S.
According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Korea’s global semiconductor market share last year was 15.8%, up 1.6% compared to the previous year, with the total production of about $500 billion, thus becoming world’s #2 first time ever with Japan’s M/S dropping 3.6% to 13.9%. The U.S. was the top with 52.4%, with $166.45 billion.  Samsung and SK Hynics are the two giant Korean semiconductor producers. Intel was the world’s #1 chip maker with $49.1 billion sales, followed by Samsung with $32.3 billion. SK Hynics ranked 8th with $9.05 billion
 SK Hynics was originally Hyundai Electronic which was founded in 1983, and then went bankruptcy in the late 90’s during the Asian crisis. SK Group bought it from creditors in 2012 to diversify its business fields. What is my story with SK? Well, it was one of the three companies that decided to hire me in Dec, 1986; Hyundai, Hyosung, and SK. I kicked SK the same way I learned from Samsung when it kicked me out with internship application in Jul, 1986.

3. Auto Industry
1) GM Korea may benefit at the sacrifice of GM Australia
GM Korea may have good opportunity to export more to Australia when GM closes its plants in the country in 2017. “Korea is producing high quality cars. It will have a major role in our manufacturing set0-up in the region and there is a free trade agreement coming up between Australia and Korea,” said Stephan Jacoby, GM’s international operation chief, Detroit Motor Show. The FTA reached in December removes immediately the 5% tariff on Koran cars. In 2013, GM Korea shipped 41,000 vehicles and 21,000 units of complete knockdown (CKD) to Australia.  Jacoby’s comments came after GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, said GM “remains very committed to the Korean market.”
The employees at GM Korea were let down recently when GM announced in Dec as much as 20% production reduction by 2016 as a result of GM’s decision to pull Chevrolet brand out of Europe. The young employees in GM Korea have started its own Jumpstart program from Aug, 2010, and many are hoping the exports to Australia supported by FTA do jumpstart the resurrection of GM Korea operations.


Monday, January 13, 2014

L2W - KJE Sweet Talk, Textbook Storm, & 110" TV

1. National
1) Soft words in Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech   
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas. “We will make aggressive efforts to improve relations. It is time to end abuse and slander that is only good for doing harm,” said Kim in his New Year speech.  South Korean president Park Geun-hye responded by proposing reunions of war-torn families at the end of January, but North Korea refused, saying, “we can not hold reunions in a situation in which bullets are flying.” The North was referring to the annual Korea-U.S. military exercise planned in February. North Korea did say the reunion talk can take place “in a good season,” hinting the talk after the military training possible.
Kim’s New Year message sounds similar to my wife’s New Year resolution. “I am determined to improve the family’s financial health this year,” vows my wife in the beginning of each year. The bill amount from Louis Vuitton and Prada ends up breaking new records every year, though.

2) Conservative history textbook under fire 
All but one out of 20 high schools that chose to use a history text book from Kyohak Publishing company had to back off after strong protests from the left wing groups who claim the textbook has conservative slant that show biases toward Japanese colonial rule and the undemocratic military government of former President Park Jung-hee, current president’s father. Over the past few months, the textbook from Kyohak has turned into an ideological war between conservatives and liberals, with each side trying to push a political and historical agenda.  There are 8 different history textbooks approved by the Ministry of Education, but the one from Kyohak is being bullied, only because it is the only one that gives negative views on North Korea’s Kim dynasty.
There are over 2,500 high schools in Korea, but only one school is using the conservative history book from Kyohak because of the protesters who even used foul verbal threats over the phone to force the school authorities to reverse their decision. That is 0.04% adoption ratio when it should be 12.5%, if average, with 8 text books. The protesters claim the Kyohak book should be banned because it has a biased stance toward undemocratic government, while they are using undemocratic ways to force others to ditch what the protesters ‘think’ is not right. It is like Colonel Sanders of KFC preaching his employees to give love to animals.

2. National
1) Korea to contribute $867M for U.S. forces in Korea in 2014   
Korean government agreed to pay 920 billion won ($867M) for 2014 in a five-year plan for maintaining the 28,500 U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea. Seoul and Washington agreed the payment will increase annually, but not more than 4 % each year for the next five years.  The two allies have had 8 agreements from 1991 in which South Korea paid about 40% of the annual cost for maintaining U.S. forces.
Both South Korea and the U.S. have a lot to benefit with U.S. soldiers in Korea. South Koreans can feel more secure as any attack from Kim Jong-un can be taken as a serious kick in the butt to Burrack Obama. On the other hand, Obama can warn Xi Jinping, “Watch out. Our missiles are only 600 miles from your mainland, not 6,000 miles.”

2) Samsung releases World’s first 110-inch Ultra-HDTV   
Samsung has launched a 110-inch ultra-HD TV, making it the biggest set of its kind in the world. It is the first time Samsung has produced a TV screen larger than 100 inches. At 2.6m by 1.8m, the TV is even larger than a king sixe bed. This goliath TV was originally introduced at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January. In this year’s CES in Las Vegas a week ago, Samsung showed off a line up of large curved UHD TVs
Samsung got its face marred at the CES show last week as Michael Bay, the director of movie Transformer, embarrassed himself while speaking for Samsung’s new curved 105-inch UHD TV for his new movie “Transformer 4.” His teleprompter failed abruptly while he was speaking, and, at a loss on how to react, he just walked off the stage, blaming stage fright. Mr. Bay just didn’t know how to transform himself from a director to an actor.

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai Elantra ranks world’s 4th best seller in 2013   
Hyundai’s Elantra (Avante in Korea) was the 4th best seller in the world last year, according to Forbes. Sales of Elantra were estimated 866,000, an increase of 11 percent over a year earlier. The Elantra is Hyundai’s all time best seller.  Ford’s Focus was the top with 1.1 million, followed by Toyota Corolla (1.0 million) and VW Jetta (906K). Chevrolet Cruze came right behind Elantra with 729K units. Toyota Camry was the 6th with 728K. No.7 to No. 10 were VW Golf (720K), Ford Fiesta (705K), Honda CR-V (698K) and VW Polo (686K).
The first generation Elantra made a debut in 1990, and the current Elantra is the 5th. I had worked for the 2nd generation development as a manufacturing engineer, responsible for windows and door system, in Ulsan from 1993 to 1995. If you happened to own an Elantra manufactured between 1995 and 2000, and hear some nagging wind noise, well, take it as a lullaby gift from me.

2) Hyundai and Kia lose some of domestic market share  
The combined domestic sales of Hyundai and its sister Kia fell 4.4 percent last year, selling only 1.1 million units in Korea, even though their worldwide sales were up 6 percent thanks to brisk sales in China and the U.S. Their competitors, GM Koreas, Ssangyong and Renault Samsung saw combined sales go up 8.6 percent over the same period. Sales of imported cars also took off with 20% increase.  Hyundai and Kia once had over 80% domestic market share, but are struggling to keep 70% these days.
Hyundai and Kia sold 7.55 million units globally in 2013, even more than their capacity. They plan to sell 7.86 million this year, and 4.43 million of those manufactured in their overseas plants. Hyundai/Kia is now world’s 5th car maker after Renault/Nissan, but the difference is only 200K units. With a couple more Hyundai Kia plants to open this year, Carlos Gosen of Renault/Nissan may not be smiling this time next year if he has to take a back seat in Hyundai Chairman Chung’s Elantra.