Wheelock's upmarket retailing arm Lane Crawford International has plunged to a net loss of $66.6 million for the year to March 31 from a profit of $1.4 million for the same period last year. The company blamed poor demand and falling consumer prices for 'substantial losses' in its retailing and trading operations. It booked a $42.5 million provision for terminating unspecified retail operations, which analysts believed to be loss-making boutiques in the mainland. The results led to criticism by a group of shareholders led by former Wheelock Capital director David Webb. They accused the company of 'pouring as much doom and gloom as possible' to ensure the success of Wheelock's proposed privatisation of Lane Crawford. The shareholders repeated their vow to vote against the privatisation proposal and urged Wheelock to raise the offer price. Lane Crawford said its retail operations, mainly comprising four department stores in Hong Kong and one jointly owned store in Shanghai, suffered their fifth straight year of operating losses since 1995. 'The retail environment in Hong Kong is expected to remain difficult in the medium term,' it said. The company also warned of a lower rental yield on its office space at Lane Crawford House in Central, the group's prime property asset. It said most leases were entered into in 1997 and were due for renewal by the end of this and next year. The office space is 84 per cent full, with 82 per cent of contracts due for renewal during the next 18 months. The company said the value of Lane Crawford House and other investment properties had appreciated, reaching $916.2 million on May 31 from $913.7 million on March 31, against $1.05 billion on March 31, last year. Its listed securities portfolio appreciated almost 12 per cent to $500.9 million on June 4 from $448 million on March 31. The portfolio carried a book cost of $741.8 million on March 31. Turnover fell 19.53 per cent to $1.24 billion. The operating loss was $23.8 million against an operating profit of $11.7 million previously. The operating loss before interest expenses on retailing and trading business was $92.3 million from $46.2 million previously. The loss per A share was 58.9 cents, against a profit of 1.3 cents previously. The loss per B share was 5.9 cents, against 0.1 cents previously.