Midland Realty has returned to the black in the first half of this year, posting a net profit of $21.58 million. A year earlier, the company reported a $22.72 million loss. Turnover in the first half to June 30 was down 6 per cent from a year earlier to $406.98 million. Directors recommended an interim dividend of 1.5 cents per share. Earnings per share amounted to 3.64 cents, against a loss of 3.82 cents for the previous year. Chairman Freddie Wong Kin-yip said the company intended to set up 40 new branches in the coming nine months. At present, Midland has 140 branches, up 7 per cent from 131 last year. Mr Wong said operating costs fell in the half year as rental expenses in June totalled $9 million, down 11 per cent from the level at the end of last year. Salary and benefits in June amounted to $15.7 million, down 1 per cent from last year's $15.9 million. Midland brokered 13,983 deals in the first half, including 3,733 first-hand transactions, up 6.7 per cent from the level in the second half of 1998, and 5,320 leasing deals. Mr Wong expected the property market transactions for the whole year would be lower than previous expectations at about 110,000. He said the market performance for the first half was good and property prices rose 17 per cent. But market transactions fell substantially over the third quarter and prices were slightly down. Mr Wong expected the fourth quarter would be better than the third quarter as the Chief Executive's Policy Address may bring some good news to the market and developers were likely to put more flats on the market.