South Korea's central bank froze its benchmark interest rate at 2.5 percent Thursday, keeping its wait-and-see stance for 10 straight months. The rate freeze was in line with market expectations as upside and downside risks remained mixed as seen in the prior month, indicating no specific factors would move up or down the policy rate. Concerns lingered over possible volatility caused by the U.S. Federal Reserve's tapering of its quantitative easing. The Fed scaled back its monthly bond purchases by 10 billion U.S. dollars in February to 65 billion dollars after cutting the same size a month earlier. The U.S. central bank will hold a regular policy meeting next week. Uncertainties mounted over the Ukraine crisis. The autonomous republic of Crimea will become independent from Ukraine if around 2 million residents vote in favor of joining Russia in a referendum due on March 16. China, South Korea's largest trading partner, posted a trade deficit of 22.98 billion dollars in February as exports declined 18.1 percent on an on-year basis. Positive factors existed. Production in the mining and manufacturing sectors increased 0.1 percent in January from a month earlier despite less working days caused by the Lunar New Year's holiday. The Lunar New Year's holiday moved to January this year from February last year, reducing business days by two days in January. Facility investment among companies declined 4.5 percent on month in January, but retail sales grew the most in 34 months, indicating a continued recovery in consumer confidence. Job creation expanded 835,000 in February from a year earlier, the highest increase in around 12 years. Seasonally adjusted employment rose 113,000 last month, keeping its growth trend for nine straight months.