SEOUL, April 29 (Yonhap) — The business sentiment of manufacturing businesses in South Korea again dropped amid the coronavirus outbreak, reaching the lowest point in over 11 years, central bank data showed Wednesday.

The business sentiment index (BSI) of local manufacturers came to 50 for May, down from 54 for this month, according to the data from the Bank of Korea (BOK).

The reading matches the one posted in March 2009, when the index stood at 50.’

A reading below 100 means pessimists outnumber optimists.

The index has been on a steady decline since February, shortly after the country reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20.

The monthly index for manufacturers had plunged 15 points from a month earlier in March, apparently after the number of daily infection cases here peaked at over 900 in late February.

The number of new infection cases has recently hovered around 10, possibly encouraging local businesses to expect improving conditions down the road.

The BSI of domestically focused firms here came to 48 for the upcoming month, down only 1 point from 49 for this month, according to the BOK.

The BSI of export companies, on the other hand, slipped to 53 from 62 over the cited period.

South Korea’s exports are widely expected to dwindle for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is apparently limiting overseas demand for South Korean products.

The country’s exports slipped 0.2 percent on-year in March, following a 4.5 percent hike the previous month.

Outbound shipments plunged 26.9 percent on-year to US$21.7 billion in the first 20 days of April, the customs office said earlier.

Local manufacturers expected their overall sales to continue shrinking in May, with their BSI on sales coming to 55 for the month from 61 for April.

The BSI of non-manufacturing firms also came to 50 for May, down from 52 for this month.