Hopewell Holdings' net earnings in the six months to December 31 fell 24.7 per cent from a year earlier to HK$69.6 million due to lower rental income from commercial properties. Revenue in the period rose to HK$7.35 billion from the previous year's $6.6 billion. The company had a HK$31.1 million operating loss in the period because of lower rental rates and the expiry of leases of several major tenants, chief executive Gordon Wu Ying-sheung said. The average occupancy level at the Hopewell Centre also fell at the end of last year to 77 per cent, he said. The main contributor to profit was the continued strong performance of mainland road projects through subsidiary Delta Road network and recurrent income from Hopewell Properties. The board recommended a dividend of five cents per share, the same as last year. The group's joint venture highways on the mainland generally recorded 'very good results', with the increase in traffic flow and revenues of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Super Highway being 'especially remarkable', Mr Wu said. Hopewell faces a substantial challenge in recovering investments in failed Southeast Asian projects, including the Bangkok Elevated Road. 'Arbitration is an important legal route unless there is a change of heart on the Thai side,' he said. 'But we really don't know what the future is like yet.' Executive director Colin Weir said the group would maintain its focus on projects in the SAR and mainland and would continue to pursue new opportunities, particularly in the mainland. 'We are still pursuing other opportunities in construction in Hong Kong, but the market conditions are very competitive,' he said. 'We are hopeful that we can break through the market during the year.' Mr Wu said Hopewell had had a fibre-optic network installed since 1994 that is used to operate the cashier system of its toll road. Mr Wu said the group was working with the Guangdong authorities to see how to make full use of the network in order to boost revenue returns. He said the investment had already been made. 'The fibre optics are already there and once we form a partnership with someone, we'll be paid rather than spending money,' he said.