Dah Sing Financial Holdings says attributable profit rose 26.5 per cent last year, boosted by strong growth in its core banking and life insurance businesses. The $602.6 million profit for the year to December exceeded analysts' forecasts of a 23 per cent rise in this month's issue of The Estimate Directory. Earnings per share were $2.64, up 26.4 per cent from $2.09 in 1995. Directors recommended a final dividend of 62 cents a share, bringing the full-year pay-out to $1.03, up 21.2 per cent on previous year. To mark the group's 50th anniversary, shareholders will also receive a special dividend of 10 cents a share. In contrast to a number of its rivals, the 44-branch banking group saw its specific provisions fall 11.7 per cent to $30.71 million, or 0.15 per cent of its loan book. General provisions, however, more than doubled to $67.08 million. Managing director Ronald Carstairs said the increase was a result of the group's organic loan growth - which stood at 26.1 per cent - and its policy of raising the provisions to equal 1 per cent of its loan portfolio. Starting from a small base in 1995, Dah Sing saw its personal loans and credit card businesses grow 90 per cent last year. Diversification in to these higher yield loans boosted the group's net interest margin to 3.76 per cent from 3.59 per cent previously, despite last year's mortgage price war and squeezing of the margin between the prime rate and interbank rate in the second half. Its mortgage business also grew very quickly at 29 per cent. Residential mortgages now comprise 43 per cent of the bank's loans. Driven by the strong growth in life insurance, the group's non-interest income grew a hefty 64.7 per cent to $281.53 million, out of which life operations accounted for $53.4 million. Dah Sing Life Assurance managing director Roddy Anderson said the number of life customers had grown to 300,000. Goldman Sach's banking analyst Roy Ramos said Dah Sing had performed very well in all aspects of its businesses. He expected investors would soon upgrade their ratings for the group. He had set an ambitious 12-month target of $50, 62.3 per cent more than yesterday's close at $30.80. In January, Dah Sing raised $381 million by placing 12 million new shares, or 5 per cent of the enlarged share capital, to British high street banking giant Abbey National. This new equity funding will increase the group's capital adequacy ratio to 14.5 per cent from 13 per cent. Mr Carstairs said Abbey's extensive experience in treasury business - through its award-winning Abbey National Treasury Services unit - would definitely help Dah Sing's development in this area.