(Bloomberg) — South Korea’s government has found a tool to keep the retail investors that are increasingly dominating the stock market happy: A short-selling ban that’s turning into one of the world’s longest and broadest.


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In August, the government extended the ban the country imposed in March for another half a year, much to the consternation of institutional investors needing to short sell to manage risks. That ban was prolonged even though the benchmark Kospi has soared more than 60% since its March swoon. The extension makes the ban one of the longest by any major market in the wake of Covid-19.

The rationale for this continued ban lies with the increasing importance of individual investors, who make up 70% of the stock market now, according to analysts and regulators.

The dilemma for Seoul is that with so many mom-and-pop investors entering the market this year, reintroducing short selling could cause a crash and upset an electorate that’s increasingly invested in the stock market’s performance.

Korean regulators are now discussing a partial lift of the extended ban when it expires on March 15: Only blue chip-stocks could be allowed to be sold short, a senior official who isn’t authorized to speak publicly told Bloomberg. The Financial Services Commission, a regulator overseeing Korea’s short-selling rules, declined to comment on the issue.

chart: South Korea's stock market rose while others with short-sell bans fell

© Bloomberg
South Korea’s stock market rose while others with short-sell bans fell

The ban has frustrated institutional investors, both local and foreign, who have been put off from investing in South Korea. Their trading value has dwindled to just 35% of the Kospi’s total versus 52% at the end of 2019, according to the Korea Exchange. Institutional investors also have to battle a perception that short-selling can be used to manipulate the market, especially after the government

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