South Korea Nov consumer sentiment up slightly

SEOUL Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:00pm EST

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SEOUL Nov 26 (Reuters) - South Korea's key consumer sentiment index for November rose for the first time six months but remained below the neutral point, a central bank survey showed on Monday, adding to signs that the sputtering economy may have bottomed.

The consumer sentiment index compiled from the Bank of Korea's monthly survey rose to 99 for November from 98 in October, when it sank to the lowest since January this year, the central bank said in a statement.

An index reading below 100 means consumers who are expecting economic and living conditions to deteriorate in the coming month outnumber those who see an improvement.

It was the first time since May this year that the index rose, although it remained below 100 for a fourth consecutive month as the majority of South Koreans still expect the situation to turn worse.

Meanwhile, the central bank also said in the same statement that the median inflation expectation for the next 12 months, compiled from the same survey, eased to 3.3 percent from 3.4 percent in October.

The latest reading marked the lowest since December 2010 but still stood far above the actual consumer inflation, which stood at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in October.

Even if the economy has troughed, any recovery may be sluggish at best.

South Korean exports for the first 20 days of November rose by 0.3 percent from a year earlier, Reuters calculations showed, while October retail sales slumped as heavily indebted South Korean households reined in spending.

The country's quarterly economic growth slowed to a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the July-September period, the weakest in nearly three years, and local policymakers do not expect a sharp economic recovery.

Many analysts believe the central bank will ease policy at least one more time during the first half of 2013 to support the economy. The central bank cut interest rates in July and October this year in response to slowing growth.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Choonsik Yoo & Kim Coghill)

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