Wheelock & Co has unveiled a 6.6 per cent rise in profit attributable to shareholders to $2.45 billion in a result highlighted by a major jump in contributions from associated companies. The share of pre-tax profits contributed by associates increased by almost a quarter to $2.44 billion. This figure was boosted largely by exceptional gains which arose from the group's asset reshuffle early in the reporting period. The group's core operating profit fell from $596.6 million in 1994-95 to $362.2 million in the just-completed financial year. The result was broadly in line with analysts' expectations of a result of about $2.5 billion, but the company's shares fell 30 cents to $14.65 in a generally weaker market. The company has raised its final dividend to shareholders to 29.5 cents, up from 26.5 cents last year. Managing director John Hung said 1995-96 had been a period of consolidation which was likely to continue over the next couple of years. He was cautious about making any predictions for profit and revenues over the next financial year because considerations such as politics made such forecasts unwise. Analysts have forecast a 20 per cent growth in annual bottom-line earnings over the next couple of years, based largely on continuing gains from property development projects. They suggested a recovery in the performance of Wheelock associate Wharf's cable television operations in the next couple of years was likely to buoy performance. Mr Hung said the group expected the period of consolidation to last until 1998, after which the group would have a solid platform for growth. It would also increasingly be looking to property development to provide earnings growth in the coming years. This month the Ardmore Park redevelopment in Singapore into a luxury residential project saw 210 out of 220 units offered taken up by investors - with a total sales value in excess of S$1 billion (about HK$5.45 billion). The company's low level of gearing - about 8 per cent of total asset value - is leading it again to look for property sites. Wheelock was looking to expand in the property market not only in Hong Kong and Singapore, but also possibly in a number of Asean countries, Mr Hung said. 'It is fair to say that - given the right opportunity - we are looking to replenish the land bank, not only in Hong Kong but in Asean countries like Malaysia,' he said. Mr Hung has played down the continuing woes of the department-store chain Lane Crawford, which has experienced particular problems in Singapore. 'It is in for another tough year, but its contribution to the group's performance as a whole is infinitesimal,' he said.