SEOUL, June 2 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s major companies saw their profitability sink to a 10-year low in 2019 amid an economic slowdown, data showed Tuesday.

The average operating margin of the country’s 2,000 major listed companies came to 5.1 percent last year, down from 8.8 percent in 2018 and the lowest level since 2009, according to the data from the Sustainable Growth Institute.

The figure refers to the ratio of operating income to sales and serves as a key barometer of a company’s profitability.

Their combined sales stood at 1,541 trillion won (US$1.25 trillion) last year, down 0.8 percent from the previous year, with their total operating income tumbling 42.3 percent to 79 trillion won.

Their total net profit amounted to 52 trillion won, down nearly 48 percent from the prior year and the second-lowest figure in 10 years.

Of the total companies, 71 percent saw their 2019 operating income drop from a year earlier, with nearly 60 percent suffering falls in net profit.

A total of 206 companies had sales of 1 trillion won or more last year, up 11 from the previous year.

The institute predicted their sales, operating income and net profit to drop further this year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.