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Bitcoin Hits Record High in South Korea, Sparks Debate Over ‘Kimchi Premium’

On March 5th at 3:00 pm (UTC), Bitcoin’s (BTC) value soared to an unprecedented 96,734,000 South Korean Won (approximately $72,504) on Upbit, South Korea’s leading cryptocurrency exchange.

This event underscored the notable price disparity often referred to as the Kimchi Premium or Korea Premium Index, which has been on a rising trajectory alongside BTC’s value since the beginning of February.

According to CryptoQuant, a notable on-chain data resource, the Korea Premium Index climbed from 5.19 on February 28 to 6.84 by March 5.

This increase aligned with Bitcoin’s price reaching a historic peak above $69,200 on the same day, fueled by the continuous influx of investments into the United States’ Bitcoin ETFs.

“The Bitcoin price rally is mainly driven by institutional demand in the United States,” CryptoQuant analyst Ho Chan Chung explained to Cointelegraph.

Contrarily, the price surge in South Korea is propelled predominantly by retail spot purchases due to the absence of spot Bitcoin ETFs in the nation.

The phenomenon of the Kimchi premium first came to light in 2016 and was highlighted in a 2019 study by the University of Calgary.

The study revealed that, from January 2016 to February 2018, Bitcoin prices on South Korean exchanges were on average 4.73% higher than those in the United States.

The disparity was even more pronounced during Bitcoin’s December 2017 bull run, with South Korean exchanges listing Bitcoin at nearly 50% higher than global averages.

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This led CoinMarketCap to exclude some Korean exchanges from its listings due to the significant price discrepancies.

In 2021, the Kimchi premium reached a zenith of 21.56% on May 19, coinciding with Bitcoin trading above the $36,000 mark, ahead of hitting its previous all-time high in November 2021.

Although some traders attempt to capitalize on these price variances through arbitrage, the premium predominantly persists due to market inefficiencies, especially during notable uptrends.

As Bitcoin continues to captivate global interest, South Korea’s financial regulator is deliberating the introduction of spot Bitcoin ETFs, a move that could potentially harmonize these price disparities.

“Among authorities, I am one of those who are positive about virtual assets,” Lee Bok-hyun, the governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, mentioned in a March 5 Reuters report, indicating ongoing internal discussions on the matter.

Despite initial reluctance from South Korea’s financial authorities in January regarding the regulation of Bitcoin futures ETF sales, they acknowledged that the brokerage sales of spot Bitcoin ETFs might contravene the Capital Markets Act.

Currently, the Korea Premium Index persists, with Bitcoin’s price on Upbit around 93,800,000 KRW ($70,000), in contrast to its approximately $67,000 value in other markets.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

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