Bitcoin's 'Kimchi Premium' Has All But Evaporated

CoinDesk data shows that the gap between South Korea's bitcoin prices, and those shown by the global market, closed over the course of February.

Mar 3, 2018 at 11:45 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 7:38 a.m. UTC
CoinDesk Insights

Bitcoin mania is cooling off, and with it, changes are happening in its global market.

Indeed, the price furor that began in early November when talk that bitcoin futures listings would go live in the U.S. triggered a wave of speculation – bitcoin, which traded at $6,500 on Nov. 1, rose as high as $20,000 by mid-December – has all but faded. But while bitcoin has largely been stuck trading sideways, global volumes remain elevated, showing interest has remained strong.

CoinDesk data reveals average daily trading volumes in February were up nearly 80 percent from November, rising to $8.2 billion, up from nearly $4.7 billion in November. (Month-over-month, volumes were down 40 percent from $13.4 billion in January.)

For traders seeking an edge, however, the biggest change was that the market's so-called "kimchi premium" all but evaporated over the course of February's 28 trading days.

Rising to prominence after it was cited by a sitting U.S. regulator in January, the term kimchi (after a staple Korean preserved food dish) referred to what was to many the dominant trend in the markets at the time, the higher bitcoin prices observed on South Korea's exchanges.

As seen in the chart above, the spread – sometimes as high as 50 percent – briefly even turned negative in early February, meaning the Korean prices traded at a discount to prices on Western exchanges.

At the end of February, the price premium was roughly $400.

Premium turns discount 

But the term "kimchi premium" is also notable for what it says about market dynamics.

As bitcoin frenzy gripped South Korea last year, the spread between BTC prices on various exchanges started widening in November and December. At times, the dynamic even caused disruptions in the market that went beyond simply buying and selling.

For example, the divide prompted data source CoinMarketCap to exclude the Korean prices from the global average price calculation, which in turn caused markets to drop sharply as the change wasn't widely communicated. 

CoinMarketCap appears to have since reinstated Korean prices in its global averages.

Yet another incident came when the South Korean government stepped-in to curb the excessive speculation. However, the drop in the premium does not mean the Koreans have done away with their fondness for cryptocurrencies.

Entering March, Korean exchanges continue to lead the way for bitcoin trading volumes, though the decline in the spread only indicates the government may have stamped out speculation.

Not just bitcoin

Still, the 'kimchi premium' affected more than just bitcoin's market – other cryptocurrencies saw the same trend.

For instance, ethereum's premium clocked a record high of 53 percent on Jan. 8, before falling to -5 percent on Feb. 3. (It is worth noting that among world's biggest 15 exchanges, three are in South Korea. Further, of the five of the biggest ethereum exchange platforms, three are Korean.)

Litecoin, the fifth largest cryptocurrency by volume, showed similar patterns.

As such, the data shows the sharp decline in the kimchi premium is strong evidence that crypto markets have largely normalized following last year's epic rise.

Graphs and data by Peter Ryan.

Kimchi image via Shutterstock

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