SEOUL, April 23 (Yonhap) — South Korean listed firms’ dividend payouts fell nearly 2.9 percent from a year earlier in 2019 amid sluggish earnings, the bourse operator said Wednesday.

Combined dividend payments by 528 out of the 761 companies closing their books in December came to 20.7 trillion won last year, down 2.88 percent from the previous year, according to the Korea Exchange (KRX).

The number of companies that paid cash dividends was down from the 545 recorded the previous year.

Their average payout ratio, referring to the percentage of earnings paid to shareholders in dividends, surged 6 percentage points to 41.25 percent over the cited period.

The figure soared as the companies paid dividends similar to the previous year’s levels despite a 38 percent tumble in their total net profit, the KRX said.

The ratio of dividends to their stock prices also added 0.15 percentage point a five-year high of 2.30 percent last year.

Meanwhile, 553 firms traded on the secondary KOSDAQ market paid out a combined 1.57 trillion won in dividends last year, up 7.4 percent from a year earlier. The number of dividend-paying firms remained unchanged.