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South Korea’s Kimchi premium turns to discount

South Korea’s “Kimchi premium” has flipped to a discount again, meaning cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are now cheaper to buy on South Korean exchanges.

The phenomenon is named after the Korean dish kimchi. The Kimchi premium refers to when the price of Bitcoin (BTC) trades higher on South Korean exchanges than in other markets.

According to data from blockchain analytics provider CryptoQuant, the Korea Premium index has been shifting between the -0.24 and 0.01 range between Feb 17 and 19.

The Korea Premium index has been shifting between the -0.24 and 0.01 range between Feb 17 and 19. Source: CryptoQuant.

As of writing, data on CoinMarketCap shows BTC is trading at roughly $24,464 on Coinbase and $24,487 on Binance.

In comparison, Korean exchange Bithumb has it listed at $24,386 and one of the largest exchanges in South Korea Upbit has it listed at $24,405.

It’s the same situation for the second largest crypto by market cap, Ethereum (ETH).

At time of writing, data on CoinMarketCap shows Coinbase has listed ETH at roughly $1,687 and Binance has it at $1,691, while Bithumb has listed ETH at $1,682 and Upbit at $1,683.

According to Doo Wan Nam, chief operating officer of node validator and venture capital fund Stablenode, the Kimchi premium changing to a discount marks a drop in interest from Korean retail investors.

“Generally it means fall in interest in crypto from Korean retail, which ironically is generally a better time to buy cause you know you can always sell yours to Korean gamblers for 20% premium later when they FOMO,” he said.

Some traders try to profit by trading the price differences between various exchanges, a practice known as arbitrage.

Related: Korean regulators investigate banks over $6.5B tied to Kimchi premium

In the past, the size of the Kimchi premium has been tied to news, with notable dips recorded at times when bad news breaks about South Korean crypto exchanges. 

The premium disappeared in early 2018 when the South Korean government announced it was planning to crack down on cryptocurrency trading.

A 2019 paper from the University of Calgary found that the Kimchi Premium first occurred in 2016.

According to the researchers, between Jan 2016 and Feb 2018, South Korean Bitcoin exchanges charged an average of 4.73% more than their United States counterparts.