Three charts today ring a warning bell for anyone who is tempted to get back into South Korea. Start with the trend in foreign trade shown in the first chart. Things look good here. Export growth on a six-month average basis has declined a little recently, but - at 5 per cent year on year - it is still good. Meanwhile, import growth has plummeted. Figures for May show that imports fell 34 per cent. This suggests that Koreans have heeded the pleas of their government to do without foreign frivolities. The decline has certainly produced a marked improvement in external balances. As the second chart shows, the latest figures have the trade balance in surplus to the equivalent of 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product. A year earlier, it was at a deficit equal to 5.4 per cent of GDP. All well and good. The difficulty is it may not have been belt-tightening that brought this balance back into surplus. According to an analysis of the national account, it was actually the result of Korea running down its inventory position. The third chart shows that the change in stocks in the year to March 31 was a minus figure equivalent to almost 6 per cent of GDP. A year earlier, this was plus 1.3 per cent. In other words, Koreans have not stopped using imported goods. They have only emptied warehouses of all they had in stock. But they cannot continue this trend forever. Sooner or later, warehouses will be empty. What would the country do then? I don't know why Koreans have put so much effort into shutting themselves out of the integrated world by aiming to becoming self-sufficient in almost everything. They have tried, and they have mostly failed. If they do not start importing again soon, they will run short of the materials their industry needs. Export growth would tumble for sure. But if they start importing, their trade balance will probably go back into deficit. This would hit them hard at a time when foreigners are unhappy to pour in the money to fill the hole. Note again that the decline in stocks is much greater than the trade surplus. This does not give Koreans much chance of staying out of the hole when the forklifts hit concrete in the warehouses. Korea has put off its day of reckoning. Everything I read of the government supporting the conglomerates tells me the same thing. Clang! Clang! Clang! Watch out for more trouble.