SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) — South Korean listed companies’ profits almost halved in the first quarter of the year, data showed Tuesday, an apparent fallout from the new coronavirus outbreak.

The combined net profit of 592 nonfinancial companies listed on the main bourse came to 11.03 trillion won (US$8.99 billion) in the January-March period, down 10.1 trillion won, or 47.8 percent, from the same period last year, according to data from the Korea Exchange (KRX).

The combined operating profit of the firms, which close their books in December, stood at 19.48 trillion won, down 8.83 trillion won, or 31.2 percent, from a year earlier.

Such a drop comes despite a slight rise in their combined sales, which added 4.3 trillion won, or 0.87 percent, on-year to 495.27 trillion won in the first quarter.

Still, the drops in their net and operating profits further deepened to 61.79 percent and 40.98 percent on-year, respectively, when excluding those of market kingpin Samsung Electronics Co., which accounts for 11.17 percent of the listed firms’ combined sales.’

The fall in corporate earnings was mainly attributed to sluggish demand at home and abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, South Korea’s exports tumbled 24.3 percent on-year to $36.9 billion. The country posted a trade deficit of $950 million, snapping its 98-month streak of trade surpluses.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected South Korea’s economy to shrink 1.2 percent on-year in 2021 while predicting the pandemic-hit global economy to see its worst year since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The 592 listed firms’ debt-equity ratio came to 117.54 percent as of end-March, up 4.58 percentage points from a year before.

Nearly 70 percent, or 411, of the firms were in the black, while the remaining 181 had posted net losses in the three months ended March 31, according to the KRX.

Ninety-eight firms swung to a loss, while 61 turned to the black.

By industry, sales of the medical equipment sector sank at the fastest rate of 16.62 percent on-year, followed by the steel industry at 7.05 percent and textiles at 6.61 percent.

In contrast, sales of pharmaceuticals grew 16.62 percent from a year earlier, with those of the food-and-beverage sector rising 9.07 percent.

Meanwhile, the combined net profit of 944 firms traded on the secondary KOSDAQ market dropped 35.17 percent on-year to 1.14 trillion won. Their operating profit fell 22.88 percent on-year to 1.76 trillion won. Total sales, however, rose 6.71 percent to 44.25 trillion won.