A big gain from the sale of its stake in Star TV has allowed Hutchison Whampoa to pad flat earnings growth and report a 19.3 per cent rise in net profit for last year. The conglomerate said yesterday profit attributable to shareholders for the year to December was $9.56 billion, up from $8.02 billion in 1994 and roughly in line with analysts' expectations. Stripping out the $756 million gain from its 18 per cent stake in Star TV, Hutchison's pre-tax profit rose just 1.81 per cent. When asked to comment on the low basic growth rate, chairman Li Ka-shing said: 'Did you see the 27 per cent increase in the dividend? That is your answer. I have full confidence in the future growth.' At another point, Mr Li, who is also chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings), said: 'These are solid earnings.' With a final dividend of 85 cents a share, against 67 cents previously, Hutchison's total payout to shareholders jumped to $1.18 a share from 93 cents. Turnover at Hutchison, which is Hong Kong's second largest company in terms of market capitalisation, increased by 16.1 per cent to $35.02 billion from $30.16 billion. Earnings per share rose to $2.65 from $2.22. Managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning said the firm's dividends would continue to grow faster than earnings. Mr Li left analysts guessing about the breakdown of the company's profits. John Hetherington of Asia Equity said the large dividend rise reflected the need of flagship Cheung Kong, which owns about 45 per cent of Hutchison, to divert some Hutchison gains for its own projects. Hutchison's stock closed 20 cents lower yesterday at $48.80 on trading of 6.51 million shares. Mr Li said the firm would set aside $1 billion to cover losses at newly listed British subsidiary Orange as it expanded its network and subscriber base. Analysts expect the mobile telephone operator, 50 per cent owned by Hutchison, to break even next year and contribute to the conglomerate's bottom line by 1998. Hutchison said it would reap gains of about $4.1 billion this year from the flotation, after providing for losses. Mr Li said Hutchison, which also invests in property, resources, trading and shipping, suffered from a fall in profits from property as the market consolidated and the economy slowed. 'Although 1996 will be another year in which the contribution from property development will be less than in previous years, the shortfall should be more than offset by contributions from other sectors of the group,' he said. Another area of concern was an apparent slowdown in cross-border trade. Mr Fok said trade growth was flat in January this year and grew about 12 per cent last month, but that was skewed by Chinese New Year. Mr Li said: 'Should this trend continue, it could impact the overall throughput handled by the Kwai Chung container port.' Hongkong International Terminals (HIT), Hutchison's container terminal operator, saw the combined throughput of HIT and Cosco-HIT rise 13 per cent last year over 1994. Mr Li said HIT's added capacity and high standards of service had enabled it to attract shipping lines to boost growth in the future.