A majority of South Korean companies expect their exports to decline in the fourth quarter mainly due to a slowdown in leading economies, a poll showed Thursday. The export business survey index (EBSI) came in at 89.8 for the October-December period, down 18.2 from the current quarter, according to the poll of 1,024 companies by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). The EBSI fell to below the benchmark 100 for the first time in 10 quarters. A reading below 100 means pessimists outnumber optimists. \"Many exporters are expecting their sales growth in overseas markets to slow in the fourth quarter due to lingering debt crises in the U.S. and the European region,\" KITA said. Earlier, the South Korean government forecast that exports are expected to expand more than 21 percent on-year to reach a record high of US$564 billion in 2011. Two-way trade is forecast to surpass the $1 trillion mark for the first time ever. According to the poll, shipbuilders and automakers said their exports will remain at the same levels seen in the current quarter, or fall slightly, while exporters of semiconductor and petrochemical goods said overseas demand would drop sharply due to the global economic slowdown. Of the companies surveyed, 24 percent said they expect difficulties to arise from increased raw materials prices in the next quarter, with 21 percent answering the increased volatility of the South Korean currency will likely be the largest problem for them.