SEOUL (Reuters)—Sales at South Korea’s top department stores were estimated to have fallen 9.7 percent in January from a year earlier, the finance ministry said on Tuesday, which would be the worst fall on record.

The finance ministry said January’s weak sales were partly attributable to the change in the timing of the Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in late January last year but fall in the middle of February this year.

Sales at the country’s top discount stores fell by 20.7 percent in January from a year earlier, the finance ministry said. It would mark the worst decline since a 23.1 percent fall in February last year.

The government began issuing sales data for department stores run by the country’s top three chain operators in January 2005. The three are Hyundai Department Store , Lotte Shopping and Shinsegae Co .

January’s outcome is the fifth consecutive month showing an annual fall. The trade and industry ministry is due to release revised January figures later this month.

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