North Korean exchange rates are reportedly showing signs of a modest recovery. After dropping about 20% in early November and subsequently fluctuating, the North Korean won-to-dollar exchange rate has been strengthening since late November. 

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea, the won-to-dollar rate as of Monday was KPW 7,100 in Pyongyang, KPW 7,050 in Sinuiju and KPW 7,150 in Hyesan.

Compared to what it was on Nov. 28 – KPW 6,500 in Pyongyang, KPW 6,380 in Sinuiju and KPW 6,540 in Hyesan – the dollar appears to have strengthened by about 10% over the course of half a month.

As of Dec. 14, the RMB was trading at KPW 890 in Pyongyang, KPW 880 in Sinuiju and KPW 880 in Hyesan. It appears to have stayed in the KPW 800 range since falling from the KPW 1,100 range in mid-October all the way down to KPW 840 in late November.

Daily NK has not found any signs that North Korean authorities have implemented any exchange rate-related measures. 

Nor has there been any unusual activity by Group 1118, which roams markets and other gathering places to crack down on illegal financial transactions.

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
In this undated photo, a market official can be seen on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

Daily NK sources have pointed out that the government’s need to intentionally prop up currency markets may have dissipated with falling exchange rates, which has made it easier to acquire foreign currency. 

North Koreans with cash to spare are reportedly using the fall in exchange rates as an opportunity to buy foreign currency on the sly. A Daily NK source said, however, that they are buying relatively small amounts from trusted money changers because exchanging large amounts of cash could draw attention from the authorities.

In some regions, rumors are going around that there was an increase in the number of people looking to buy dollars when the exchange rates fell. Based on these rumors, there is reportedly speculation that the growing number of people who want to acquire dollars has led to a modest recovery of the dollar in recent weeks. 

“Exchanging money may put you on the government’s radar because there’s nowhere to use foreign currency with the border closed,” said the source. “Ever since the dollar rate fell, however, there are people who want to buy dollars – even just small amounts. So, the thinking is that an increase in demand for dollars will gradually lead to a rise in the exchange rate.” 

Meanwhile, rumors are reportedly circulating in North Korea that a money changer was executed in Pyongyang.

In a report to the Intelligence Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly in November, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had recently ordered the execution of a bigwig Pyongyang money changer for his alleged involvement in the drastic fall in the exchange rate. 

However, multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea have said that the Pyongyang money changer’s execution had nothing to do with the falling exchange rate. Rather, the money changer – who also engaged in trade – not only brought in imported items in violation of quarantine guidelines, but also got caught trying to inflate the price of goods in local markets.

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