[SEOUL] Annual sales at South Korea's department and discount stores both rose in May for the first time in three months, finance ministry data showed on Tuesday, but the government said an outbreak of the Mers virus threatened ongoing recovery.
Combined sales at department stores run by Hyundai Department Store, Lotte Shopping and Shinsegae Co rose for a second month by 3.6 per cent in May from a year ago, the finance ministry said in estimates published on Tuesday.
This was the fastest growth seen since February this year and an improvement from 1.5 per cent growth in April.
Sales at major discount store chains rose 0.3 per cent, rebounding from a 0.2 per cent decline in April.
Although private consumption is strengthening, the recent outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) has built up uncertainty, on top of a weakened yen and a sluggish global economy, the government statement said.
The finance ministry added it would work towards stabilising markets in a pre-emptive manner in case of external shocks. Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan said on Monday the government will "aggressively respond" to counter the economic impact of Mers.
South Korea's health ministry confirmed on Tuesday that there were eight new cases of Mers, bringing the total to 95.
Revised department and discount store sales will be released later in the month.