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Investors in South Korea were saying it loud and proud: Seoul was solvent again. In their first trip to the market since the IMF's Christmas announcement that it would rush $10 billion into the country's "usable" foreign currency reserves in time to pay off some loans due next week, suddenly confident traders sent the nation's benchmark index up 6.7 percent, or 23.7 points, from Wednesday's close. The Korean currency, the won, closed at 1,498 to the U.S. dollar, compared to 1,836 Wednesday.

To stay afloat, though, South Korea will need similar largesse from its private creditors: scores of U.S. and foreign banks whose South Korean loans will be coming due over the next few months. By then, the cupboard could be bare again. Which is why they call it a crisis.