Exclusive-South Korea considers easing bond market reporting rules, sources say

By Thomson Reuters Apr 24, 2024 | 1:06 AM

By Seunggyu Lim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is considering easing real-time reporting requirements for investors in the nation’s $1.8 trillion bond market as it seeks inclusion into FTSE Russell’s global bond index, three people familiar with the matter said.

The finance ministry and the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) are in talks to change a requirement for banks to report any bond trading in the over-the-counter market to authorities within 15 minutes of each transaction.

That rule has been a major pain point in the government’s efforts to court global investors into the Korean bond market. It would also need to be addressed as Korean bonds move to the Euroclear settlement platform from July this year.

No decisions have yet been made on the specific changes to the rules but could include reducing reporting requirements to once or twice a day, said the sources, which included a finance ministry official who declined to be named. A current 7pm local deadline for reporting would also need to be addressed.

“Many foreign institutions have pointed out that the requirement to report transactions manually every 15 minutes is a restriction in carrying out transactions efficiently, and we’re working to improve that,” a source directly involved in the government discussion said, who declined to be named due to sensitivity of the issue.

“We’re communicating with relevant authorities to ease them,” he said.

The FSS, South Korea’s market regulator, declined to comment.

The changes would follow recent reforms Asia’s fourth-largest economy has introduced as it looks to shake off its classification as an emerging market and gain acceptance to major global market benchmarks.

Inclusion in FTSE Russell’s World Government Bond Index (WGBI), for example, could attract tens of billions of dollars in inflows, analysts say.

Authorities are now looking to ease a series of rules for banks and brokerages created after financial crises of past decades and designed to monitor major capital flight risks.

South Korean government bonds have been on FTSE Russell’s watchlist for WGBI inclusion since September 2022 and easing the 15-minute reporting requirement could improve the prospects of index admission, the sources say.

FTSE Russell is due to release an update on its WGBI constituents in September.

South Korea needs to improve in areas such as “sound regulatory environment” and “investment restrictions” to meet the minimum standards for WGBI inclusion, a FTSE Russell report said in a 2022 report.

FTSE Russell determines WGBI inclusion based on an investor survey on market accessibility.

Foreign investors make up about 10% of the country’s bond market.

Currently details of all over-the-counter transactions including price, quantity, time and parties involved need to be reported in real-time to the Korea Financial Investment Association, an industry body.

Global banks say the real-time reporting obligations currently create significant barriers for foreign investors wanting to buy large volumes of Korean bonds.

Among the regulatory reforms South Korea adopted recently to boost foreign access to its financial markets was the scrapping of a 30-year-old rule that foreigners must register with authorities in order to trade listed stocks. The won’s onshore market trading hours will also be extended.

In 2022, the government scrapped taxes on foreigners’ income from investments in treasury bonds and monetary stabilisation bonds.

(Writing by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Sam Holmes)