SEOUL, March 27 Combined sales at South Korea's
top department store chains fell at the sharpest annual rate in
13 months during February, revised government data showed on
Thursday, suggesting fragile growth momentum for Asia's
Sales at department stores run by the country's top three
chain operators fell by 2.4 percent last month from a year
earlier, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said in a
statement, a more severe fall than the 1.7 percent drop
estimated earlier in March and marking the sharpest decline
since January 2013.
Sales at the country's top discount store chains fell by
23.1 percent, same as the initial estimates and also at a
February's sales performance was affected by the Lunar New
Year holidays, but the data nonetheless suggests that robust job
growth, subdued inflation and a more optimistic outlook
indicated by the Bank of Korea's consumer sentiment readings
have yet to show up in more robust domestic demand.
South Korea's central bank expects economic growth this year
to accelerate to 3.8 percent from a revised 3.0 percent in 2013,
with private consumption picking up in line with improving
When January and February data are combined, department
store chains' sales rose by an annual 2.4 percent while discount
store sales fell by 3 percent.
Such subdued demand may reinforce expectations that the Bank
of Korea won't be in any hurry to raise interest rates, even
when a new governor takes office next month.
The weak retail sales data bolsters the view that inflation
will remain subdued in the absence of major external shocks,
giving the central bank leeway to keep rates low until the
nascent recovery firmly takes root.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Eric Meijer)