Betting on politics: A coup in North Korea

At least some in North Korea must be worried about Kim Jong-un's sabre-rattling. Matthew Partridge weighs the odds on regime change in Pyongyang.


How long can Kim Jong-un last?
(Image credit: 2017 Getty Images)

Paddy Power is cashing in on the West's standoff with North Korea by offering several bets relating to Kim Jong-un's next moves (you can find them grouped with the Donald Trump punts). Some of these are frivolous. They include 1/2 on him opening a Paddy Power store in North Korea, 66/1 on him putting up a statue of Donald Trump in 2017, and 100/1 on him demanding that his face be added to Mount Rushmore, to sit alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

However, the market on the method of his departure from his role as Supreme Commander looks more interesting. Paddy Power seems convinced that he will die in office, offering only 1/10 (90.9%) on this eventuality. By contrast, you can get 5/1 (16.7%) on him being overthrown in a coup and 8/1 (11.1%) on him resigning. Of course, the slight difficulty here is that a mixture of these scenarios could occur; what if he is killed or resigns during a coup, for instance? Nonetheless, these bets are still worth considering.

Most foreign-policy experts think a coup is unlikely. I'm not so sure. The evidence suggests that sanctions are already having a big effect on the North Korean economy. I would imagine that many people in Pyongyang are also worried about his sabre-rattling provoking war. We know that there have been internal challenges to his regime before, so I think that the chances of him being forced from office, or stepping down in the face of overwhelming opposition, are at least 50% and probably much higher.

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There is the risk that you could tie your money up for years, but the potential return is so high that I'd still suggest that it is worth a punt on the latter two options for combined odds of 27.8%. If you weigh your bet properly you end up putting £6 of a hypothetical £10 betting unit on a coup and the rest on aresignation.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri