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South Koreans stock up on gold and ready meals as fear economy booms

A relief goods storage is seen inside a subway station which is used as a shelter for emergency situations. Koreans are stocking up on ready to eat meals and buying gold amid a tense political standoff. (Reuters)

SEOUL: South Koreans are buying more gold and ready-to-eat meals as rhetoric between North Korea and the US ramps up tension.
Long used to living within the range of North Korea’s artillery, people in the South have generally ignored its aggressiveness and series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. But this week, as Pyongyang exchanged increasingly angry words with the US, there are worries of a clash erupting along the heavily militarized frontier which divides the two Koreas.
Combat Ration Inc., which makes 2 billion won ($1.75 million) of annual revenue selling ready-to-eat meals, said sales had surged as much as 50 percent in the past week compared to the average.
“Since 2006, when North Korea first conducted its nuclear test, there wasn’t this much response as people became immune to frequent missile launches and nuclear tests,” said Yoon Hee-yeul, the chief executive of Combat Ration, based in the southeastern city of Daegu.
“I feel it’s different this time,” said Yoon, who has been in the business since 2004.
Ready-to-eat meals maker Babmart, based in eastern Seoul, and another Seoul-based online seller,, also said sales have increased. Officials at both companies attributed the surge to the heightened tension.
“Koreans used to be numb to North Korea’s threats, however, it seems different this time, and people are taking it seriously,” said Song Jong-gil, an official of Korea Gold Exchange 3M, where sales of mini gold bars have surged five-fold since Aug. 9.
After Trump’s “fire and fury” threat heightened tension, average daily sales volume has been 250 bars, ranging in weight between 10 grams (0.35 oz) and 100 grams (3.5 oz), versus about 50 earlier, Song said, adding the trend would continue through August.
Investors widely consider gold a safe-haven asset at times of growing geopolitical risk or economic uncertainty. South Koreans, who are still technically at war with their combative neighbours, are no exception.
Few bomb shelters have long-term supplies of food, water, medical kits or gas masks, because the mostly private owners of the shelters get no public funding.

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