Hutchison Whampoa is to further expand its container ports business by seeking more investment opportunities in South and Central America. Managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning, speaking after the company's annual meeting yesterday, said a feasibility study was under way in these areas through its subsidiary Hongkong International Terminals (HIT). It already has interests in Panama, at Balboa and Cristobal, which are at opposite ends of the Panama Canal. It also has container port investments on Grand Bahama Island. Earlier this month Hutchison increased its stake in HIT by 3 per cent to 88 per cent at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. Mr Fok said HIT's performance in the first quarter of the year was 'not bad'. He declined to disclose any details. The company recorded growth in its overseas businesses, he said, although earnings in the Asia region had suffered a decline. HIT, the world's largest privately owned container port facility, operates Terminals 4, 6 and 7 at Kwai Chung and has an effective 42.5 per cent interest in Terminal 8 East. The container port business is a core arena of earnings for Hutchison, which is also involved in property and telecommunications both in Hong Kong and internationally. Chairman Li Ka-shing said the diversity of the group's business portfolio in local and overseas markets meant it had not been too seriously affected by the current slowdown in the property market. Mr Fok said about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of earnings could be derived from overseas markets by 2000. It is believed such earnings would include a contribution from its stake in listed British telecommunications operation Orange, which Mr Fok predicted would break even this year. Mr Fok said the group was facing keen competition in Hong Kong's telecoms industry but he said it still managed to see an increase in earnings from its overall telecoms business. Hutchison Telecommunications provides cellular, fixed-line and paging services in Hong Kong. Mr Fok said the company had made a profit in the operation of its GSM network and achieved break-even in its CDMA cellular network.