HKCB Bank Holding Co has reported a 23.3 per cent increase in net profit to $87.68 million for the first half to June. The company said yesterday its banking operation, Hongkong Chinese Bank, performed well, notching steady growth in terms of deposits and loans. HKCB said the banking business was helped largely by a favourable economic climate. 'The economy was underpinned by continued growth in investment spending, improved sentiment in the residential property sector and a gradual recovery in consumer spending,' it said. The profit picture was aided by an easing of pressure on interest margins, the company said. However, competition in the banking sector would remain intense. The company reported an 8 per cent increase in interest income to $774.66 million. Its Lippo Protective Life Insurance Co exceeded expectations, with new business growing more than 100 per cent over the same period last year. Thanks to the boost in business, the captive sales force now has more than 400 people. The merchant banking section, Lippo Asia, and its subsidiaries also turned in a strong performance. Earnings per share rose to 14.8 cents from 11.9 cents. Dividend was kept at five cents a share.