Indeed, the full year told a story of increasing strain across the economy. Growth was 2.7 percent for the whole of 2018, the slowest expansion in six years but matching the 2.7 percent growth projected by the central bank.
Investor worry a slowdown in the Chinese economy and the Sino-U.S. trade war could severely dent global growth and demand for key South Korean exports items including memory chips and petrochemical products.
Growing signs of weakness in China — which has generated nearly a third of global growth in recent years — are fueling anxiety about risks to the world economy and are weighing on profits for firms ranging from Apple to big car-makers. Last year, China's economy grew an annual 6.6 percent, the slowest pace in almost three decades, hurt by the trade war and slackening domestic demand.
December exports unexpectedly slipped as shipments to China, South Korea's biggest export market, declined 14 percent on-year, the fastest fall in more than two years.
The pressure on the South Korean economy is expected to persist over this year, and likely keep the central bank sidelined after it raised rates in November mainly to contain a boom in parts of the nation's property market.
The Bank of Korea holds its first meeting for the year on Thursday.