In the 1950s, South Korea was as poor as India. But from the early 1960s to the late 1990s, it was one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Today, South Korea ranks as Asia’s fourth-largest economy, and it boasts GDP per capita of about $32,000. The country’s wealthy, urbanized population has made it a highly attractive market for domestic and international retailers alike. Lately, however, this Asian Tiger has seemed sluggish and short of breath. In the second quarter of 2013, GDP rose a modest 2.3% year-on-year. Consumer spending has also been lackluster, due to a combination of economic uncertainty and what the Bank of Korea has described as “a pileup in household debt.” In 2012, the country’s ratio of household debt to disposable income hit a record 136%, up from 103% in 2004. Kim Choong-soo, governor of the central bank, recently warned that the nation’s household debt had “reached a limit”.

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