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No. of corporate rating downgrades hits 15-yr high in 2014

The number of credit rating downgrades for South Korean companies rose to a 15-year high last year amid weakening earnings and a protracted economic slump, data showed Monday.

According to data compiled by the Korea Investors Service Inc., ratings for 41 of the 373 companies appraised were downgraded last year, the largest amount since 1999.

Fifteen companies were graded up last year, also the lowest number in 15 years, the data showed.

"Since 2010, more companies have faced a decline in their ratings. Last year, downgrades were made in every sector and every ratings bracket," said Yang Jin-soo, an analyst at KIS.

Analysts said weaker-than-expected economic growth and a slump in bottom lines were key reasons for the ratings downgrades.

The South Korean economy, Asia's fourth largest, expanded 3.3 percent in 2014 on the back of two rounds of rate cuts by the Bank of Korea, compared with growth of 3 percent in 2013 and 2.3 percent in 2012.

But last year's growth fell short of its potential growth, widely estimated at some 4 percent.

For this year, the BOK expects a 3.4 percent rise, while the government projects a 3.8 percent expansion.

Other data from the country's bourse operator showed that earnings by South Korea's listed companies dropped by more than 33 percent on-year in the third quarter of last year, hit by a weakening Japanese yen and ailing domestic demand.

The combined net profit of 488 firms listed on the main bourse came to 13.98 trillion won ($12.3 billion) on a consolidated basis in the July-September period, down 33.4 percent from a year earlier. Their operating income also sank by 25.4 percent on-year to 21.24 trillion won, the data compiled by the Korea Exchange showed. (Yonhap)

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