Red-chip Guangzhou Investment Co (GZI) is to speed up its acquisition plans in the property, hotel and service sectors this year to breathe life into what is expected to be a flat earnings growth in the current financial year. The pledge was made by vice-chairman Guo Peinan after the investment arm of the Guangzhou city government announced a rise of only 5.5 per cent in net profit to $438 million for the year to December. The results, bolstered by an exceptional gain of $125.4 million from the sale of a 25 per cent interest in a cement business to Belgium's Cimenteries CBR, slightly exceeded the market consensus of $420 million reported in the April edition of The Estimate Directory . Turnover surged about 27 per cent to $2.62 billion. Operating profit dropped 17 per cent to $426 million from $526.7 million, partly due to falling cement prices. Fully-diluted earnings per share were 16.4 cents, up from 15.9 cents previously. A final dividend of 2.8 cents a share was declared, the same as the previous year. Mr Guo said the cement, paper, and China property divisions recorded between 17 and 45 per cent growth for last year. The contribution from Hong Kong properties was halved to about $110 million as the company had not expected the quick rebound seen in property prices, but this was more than compensated for by the sale of part of the cement business. The company would strive to strengthen the organic growth of existing businesses but greater emphasis would be placed on growth through acquisition this year. 'The existing businesses would have considerable growth but the growth is not stable and cannot meet our expectations,' Mr Guo said. 'We issued new shares at the beginning of the year. 'To sustain earnings growth per share, we have to buy more assets.' He said the company was in its strongest financial position since it and GZI Transport were listed. The company has about $5.8 billion in its war chest on a consolidated basis and its gearing is about 40 per cent. Mr Guo said the company hoped to make some investments in hotels, rental properties, low-to-medium range residential properties and the service industry this year. Mr Guo said there should be growth across the board even if the company did not acquire new assets this year.