MTR underlying profit rises 5.1pc to beat market target

Rail operator cites sharp rise in rental income and boost in passenger numbers, with analysts likely to revise full-year profit forecasts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 4:14am

MTR Corp beat market expectations to post a 5.1 per cent rise in underlying profit of HK$4.25 billion for the first half on a jump in rental income and passenger numbers.

Analysts, who were expecting the company to post lower profit because of weakening property development earnings, may revise their forecasts for full-year profit. Their focus is likely to shift to the rail operator's recurrent income and organic growth.

With cash demand peaking next year as the group's five rail projects enter their final stages, the group said its net debt-equity ratio, which edged up 0.6 percentage point to 11.6 per cent, would continue to climb.

Financial director Stephen Law said the group would not need to raise capital in the equity market.

"Our cash flow remains strong and our borrowing cost is as low as 3.5 per cent," Law said. "We have room to raise our debt-equity ratio."

Revenue from station advertising and shop leases in stations and MTR malls all saw double-digit growth in the six months to June.

A sharp jump in rents for the duty-free shops at Lo Wu and Hung Hom stations from a recent renewal of contracts helped drive up station retail income by 40 per cent to HK$1.45 billion, offsetting a 14.7 per cent drop in profit from property development.

Passenger numbers rose 3.6 per cent year on year on its rail and bus services, bringing total trips to 883.1 million in the first half. MTR's local rail lines posted a slightly higher increase than its cross-border services.

While property development made up more than half of earnings in 2010, its contribution has declined in the past two years amid property cooling measures.

Our cash flow remains strong and our borrowing cost is as low as 3.5 per cent. We have room to raise our debt-equity ratio
Financial director Stephen Law

MTR is expected to see record traffic growth from 2015 when five of its new rail projects - including a cross-border link that connects Hong Kong to the national high-speed rail network - come on stream.

The company has just won a 2.08 billion yuan (HK$2.6 billion) development contract for a site above Beiyunhe station on Tianjin Metro Line 6. The site will house a residential-commercial complex.

But analysts worry the company's rapid expansion on the mainland through its successful rail-plus-property model could expose it to greater financial risks.

MTR will pay an interim dividend of 25 HK cents per share. Its shares closed 0.53 per cent higher at HK$28.55 yesterday.