South Korean tween hopes to become the next Warren Buffett as he starts buying stocks during Covid-19

  • Kwon Joon began trading during the coronavirus pandemic, buying shares in Kakao, Samsung and Hyundai
  • While many South Korean students aim to attend schools like Seoul National University, he hopes to skip college, become an investor and do charity work
Reuters |

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Kwon Joon looks at a monitor as he checks investing information in his room in Jeju, South Korea. He got involved in the stock market because he had free time during Covid-19 school suspensions. Photo: Lee Eun-joo/Handout via REUTERS

Twelve-year-old Kwon Joon started a new morning routine during the Covid-19 pandemic: watching the business news first thing in the morning. The South Korean tween is dreaming of becoming the next Warren Buffett after earning excellent returns of 43 per cent from a hobby he picked up just last year: buying stocks.

Joon pestered his mother to open a retail trading account last April with savings of 25 million won (HK$175,500), just as the country’s stock market index, KOSPI (Korea Composite Stock Price Index) began recovering from its biggest dip in a decade.

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“I really talked my parents into it, because I believed an expert who was saying [on TV] that this is a once-in-a-decade opportunity,” said Joon.

“Rather than short-term focused day trading, I want to keep my investment for 10 to 20 years with a long-term perspective, hopefully to maximise my returns,” he said, adding: “My role model is Warren Buffett,” referring to the famous US billionaire investor.

Joon isn’t completely new to the business world. He started selling toy cars when he was seven years old. He used that money, plus cash he’d received as gifts and from running vending machines, as seed money for his account, and buys blue chip shares (those in well-established companies).

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Rookie investors like him in South Korea have led the blistering rise of retail trade amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More retail, or individual, investors are teenagers or even younger, making up more than two-thirds of the total value traded in the country’s shares, compared to less than 50 per cent in 2019.

The trend has grown as the stock market lures parents disillusioned with the education system, and millennials working from home.

Kwon Joon plays with his younger sister in Jeju, South Korea. Photo: Lee Eun-joo/Handout via REUTERS

“I wonder, in this day and age, whether a college degree would be all that important,” said Joon’s mother, Lee Eun-joo, who fuelled Joon’s passion for the stock market by exposing him to business rather than extra tuition, which is seen as key to getting ahead in academics.

“Because we live in a different world now, it could be better to become an ‘only-one’ kind of person,” added Lee, who feared even a good schooling might not protect her son against dwindling job opportunities.

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With time on his hands during last year’s school closures for the pandemic, Joon drew up a wish list of purchases. These ranged from South Korea’s largest messenger app operator, Kakao Corp, to the world’s biggest memory chip maker Samsung Electronics, and Hyundai Motor.

Joon’s success also reflects the employment challenges for young South Koreans, with one in four out of work by last month, the worst level on record, despite being among the most highly educated group in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) club of advanced nations.

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Three-quarters go on to university after secondary school, compared to the OECD average of 44.5 per cent, but finding rewarding, creative work after graduation is tough.

“There aren’t enough jobs for college graduates, so many are opting out to diversify their career path early,” said vocational researcher Min Sook-weon.

That is something Joon understands.

“Rather than going to good schools like Seoul National University, I’d rather become a big investor,” he said.

“I also hope to do a lot of charity work.”

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