Hong Kong and China Gas Co, which produces and distributes Towngas, yesterday said its attributable profit grew 17 per cent to $1.14 billion in the first half, helped by strong gas sales. Analysts said the results were marginally better than expectations and demonstrated the solid performance of the group's core business. Hong Kong Gas, a 135-year-old company which is now part of Lee Shau Kee's Henderson Group, said turnover rose 18.2 per cent to $2.94 billion in the first six months. Earnings per share rose 18.5 per cent to 32 cents. The directors recommended an interim dividend of 12 cents per share, 20 per cent higher than the previous year. The amount of Towngas sold in the first half rose to 12.72 billion mega joules, up from 12.29 billion mega joules in the same period in 1996. The number of installed meters in Hong Kong had risen to 1.2 million by the end of June, from 1.12 million a year earlier. Chairman Lee Shau Kee said Hong Kong Gas was progressing on schedule with its two big property projects. The King's Park Rise development in Homantin, in which the utility has a 45 per cent stake, is due to be completed in early 1999. The project is being undertaken with Henderson Land Development and Bank of East Asia, and will comprise 42 detached residential houses and 86 luxury flats. The development of the Airport Railway Hong Kong Station project in Central, in which the utility has a 15-per cent interest, is also proceeding according to plan. Mr Lee said 785,000 square feet of offices and 131,000 square feet of retail space in Phase One of the project would be completed next year. Analysts expect the company's property projects to contribute about 10 per cent of net profit in financial year 1999 and 6 per cent in 2000, easing its reliance on its Towngas business. Mr Lee said the land premiums payable to the Government would be determined in due course and paid in phases. Hong Kong Gas shares rose 35 cents to $16.20 yesterday.