PROPERTY sales in the first quarter last year boosted Ryoden Development's attributable profit by 24.6 per cent to $284.3 million for the year to December 31. Earnings per share rose 15 per cent to 32.5 cents compared with 1993 and directors declared a dividend of 13 cents per share, compared with 12 cents previously. The group's turnover jumped 114.7 per cent to $889 million. Chairman Hu Fa-kuang attributed the increase in attributable profit to the sale of a number of property projects at good prices and the group's commitment to several new developments. He said these allowed them to achieve solid earnings growth and at the same time maintain a healthy land bank. 'The Hong Kong property market experienced two extreme situations,' Mr Hu said. In the first quarter, prices skyrocketed to record levels supported by bullish market sentiment and low interests rates. But the trend reversed because of successive interest rates increases and the Government's introduction of various measures for stabilising residential property prices. 'This has, however, presented an excellent opportunity for the group to replenish its land bank at reasonable prices,' he said. According to Mr Hu, the group has a substantial investment portfolio in the territory which includes Manulife Tower in North Point and Ryoden Industrial Centre in Kwai Chung. Both properties generated an annual recurrent income of about $146 million. In contrast, the group is more cautious about committing itself to China although it sees the potential of the market there in the long term. Mr Hu said they would continue to explore the market on the mainland. 'The announcement of details of the Land Appreciation Tax has cleared the uncertainties surrounding projects committed to prior to 1994,' he said. The tax rates of between 30 to 60 per cent are imposed on gains from property transactions. But the tax gives a five-year exemption period for transactions entered into before January last year for the first transfer. Mr Hu said the group would replenish its land bank in the territory this year with the purchase of a development site in Ho Man Tin. Last month, it sold a five per cent interest in Central Plaza to Sun Hung Kai Properties. An agreement to purchase the office portion, totalling 190,790 square feet, of New Kowloon Plaza would put the group's total investment portfolio at about 850,000 sq ft, providing recurrent annual income of close to $200 million. Mr Hu said they would launch one of their projects Melody Court in North Point this month. Other development projects, including Cypress Garden in Ho Man Tin, May Court in Aberdeen and Tower One of the first phase of Gateway Plaza, office units in Shanghai Square in Shanghai, would be launched for pre-sale in the second half of the year, he said. Mr Hu's outlook for the territory for the next few years was optimistic because despite much new land supply there would be the new airport and other infrastructural projects.