SEOUL, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Combined sales at South Korea's top department and discount store chains fell simultaneously in December for the second time in three months, data released on Wednesday showed, suggesting weak growth in the fourth quarter.
Combined sales at department stores run by Hyundai Department Store Co Ltd, Lotte Shopping Co Ltd and Shinsegae Co Ltd fell by 0.2 percent from a year earlier, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement, marking the eighth month of decline this year.
This was worse than a 0.7 percent rise initially estimated by the finance ministry earlier this month and follows a 9.1 percent rise in November.
The economy ministry said average price of goods sold at department stores fell in December even as the number of customers rose, reflecting more frugal spending as economic conditions deteriorated.
Sales at South Korea's top three discount store chains also fell by 5.0 percent in December, compared with a 5.9 percent drop initially estimated. Still, this was a bigger decline than the 1.7 percent fall in November and marked the third consecutive month of contraction.
The data, along with a 5.7 percent year-on-year decline in exports, support expectations for modest growth in the fourth quarter. The Bank of Korea is due to announce the advance estimates for fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth on Thursday.
Median forecast from a Reuters poll of 18 analysts tipped the Korean economy to have grown by a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent in the October-December period from the previous quarter, up modestly from a 0.1 percent rise in the July-September period.
For all of 2012, department store sales fell by 0.3 percent while discount store sales fell by 3.3 percent, both the worst on record.
Reporting By Se Young Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore