Bitcoin's 'Kimchi Premium' Returns With $1K Price Spreads on Crypto Exchanges

The spread between the price of bitcoin on South Korean and U.S. exchanges reached as high as $1,000 this weekend, a sign market inconsistencies are returning with price action.

AccessTimeIconJul 1, 2019 at 3:15 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 9:22 a.m. UTC

Bitcoin may be back over $10,000, but the price increase is bringing with it similar market inconsistencies as seen in the cryptocurrency's meteoric 2017 ascent.

At press time, bitcoin prices in South Korea are once again trading at a notable premium to Western exchanges. The spread, popularly known as the "Kimchi Premium" after a Korean preserved food dish, rose to $1,048 on Sunday, the highest level since Feb. 24, 2018, according to data from cryptocurrency exchanges Bithumb and Coinbase.

Bithumb is South Korea’s largest cryptocurrency exchange while Coinbase, headquartered in San Francisco, California, is the largest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange.

As of writing, the price differential on two exchanges is seen at $520.

Kimchi premium daily chart


As seen can be seen, the spread alternated between positive (premium) to negative (discount) in the range of +200 to -200 for nearly 15-months before rising sharply from $80 to $1,048 in the seven days to June 30.

Interestingly, the kimchi premium has spiked with bitcoin's break above $10,000. While the spread is on the rise, it is still down 90 percent from the record high of $7,484 registered on Jan. 8, 2018.

Back then, a bull frenzy had gripped South Korea with the cryptocurrency reportedly drawing demand from many demographics, including college students and housewives. After all, BTC had rallied from $6,000 to $20,000 in the preceding two months.

With Korean’s paying nearly 25 percent premium, the government decided to clamp down on speculation in January 2018. As a result, the kimchi premium was all but evaporated by the end of February 2018.

Kimchi premium in the ether market


Other markets also witnessed a rise in the Kimchi premium last week. For instance, the spread between the price of ethereum's ether (TH) token on South Korea exchanges and Western exchanges rose to $28.57 on Sunday, the highest level since May 2018. As of writing, the spread is seen at $14.40.

The kimchi premium in both bitcoin and the ethereum markets is falling back along with the correction in prices. While bitcoin is now trading at $10,500 representing a 24 percent drop from the recent high of $13,880, ether is changing hands at $286 - also down more than 20 percent from last week's high of $365.

Disclosure: The author holds no cryptocurrency at the time of writing

Korean won image via Shutterstock; charts by TradingView


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