Property sales described as 'reasonably healthy' underpinned a 3.1 per cent rise in attributable profit at Wheelock & Co to $2.53 billion in the year to March 31 - in line with expectations. The hong controlled by the family of Peter Woo Kwong-ching said the bulk of its growth during the year was derived from property sales. 'Property income continues to be the main engine of the group,' chairman Gonzaga Li Wei-jen said yesterday. 'Wheelock Properties revived its sales during the year in line with the market trends and its sales activities are looking reasonably healthy.' Turnover more than doubled to $5.83 billion from the previous year's $2.33 billion. Operating profit surged to $1.36 billion from $195.1 million, and earnings per share rose to $1.255 from $1.22. According to The Estimate Directory, the consensus among analysts covering the company was for attributable profit to rise 5 per cent to $2.57 billion. Vickers Ballas Securities Hong Kong investment analyst David Loomis said: 'The results were pretty much in line with what we were looking for - the more interesting developments are looking forward.' Analysts said the only real surprise was the larger-than-expected one-time gain from Wheelock's sale of its interest in the Wheelock NatWest financial services joint venture last November. Wheelock booked an exceptional gain of $470.9 million from the disposal of interests in associated companies - which included the sale of the Wheelock NatWest stake. Analysts had been expecting a figure closer to $100 million. Wheelock sold its 50 per cent interest in Wheelock NatWest to Britain's National Westminster Bank after the parties dissolved the partnership citing a tough regulatory environment. The earnings declines at associates Wharf (Holdings) and New Asia Realty and Trust during 1996 took their toll, as profit from associated companies fell 29.9 per cent to $1.71 billion. Analysts said this year should see the start of an earnings revival for Wheelock, helped by increased property sales and a recovery in the group's telecommunications and cable television operations, which it owns through Wharf. A substantial profit contribution should also come from the sale of residential properties at its Plaza Hollywood development in Diamond Hill, which is expected to go to pre-sale in the third quarter. 'The group is set to realise a sustained period of value expansion, supported by a new cycle of earnings growth,' Mr Li said. The directors declared a final dividend of 32 cents a share to bring the total to 43.5 cents a share - an increase of 6 per cent.