Hutchison Whampoa has revealed earnings before interest and tax surged 80 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of this year. The company would not disclose the amount of earnings. However, executives said yesterday at a meeting for analysts the results for the quarter, which ended on March 31, were helped by strong earnings growth in almost every division. They also said earnings were bolstered by the sale of a 2 per cent stake in United States-based Western Wireless. Hutchison also did not disclose how much profit it made from the sale of the Western Wireless stake or to whom it sold the holding. It would be worth about US$80 million, based on Western Wireless' Wednesday closing price in New York at US$51.688. In 1997, Hutchison bought a 5 per cent share holding in Western Wireless. It will retain a 3 per cent stake after the sale of the 2 per cent holding is completed. Hutchison executives also said yesterday the company had entered talks with mobile telephone operators and content providers to establish a consortium to operate a pan-European third-generation (3G) mobile-phone operation. Last month, Hutchison and Canada-based Telesystems International Wireless (TIW) paid GBP4.38 billion (about HK$53.27 billion) for a 3G licence in Britain. The executives said the consortium would bid for 3G mobile licences in France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark. Hutchison had never before disclosed quarterly results in any form. However, the move was enough to prompt analysts to speculate the company was preparing for a listing in the United States, where such reports are mandatory. Analysts also said they would probably revise Hutchison's interim earnings forecasts upwards because of the company's strong first-quarter results. In the first quarter, all the company's operating divisions recorded sharp profit increases except for its retail and manufacturing operation, which had flat growth. Nonetheless, analysts said Hutchison needed to add another equity partner or partners to its 3G mobile operation in Britain. This would help ease concerns by credit-rating agencies regarding the venture's substantial up-front investment. In Britain, Hutchison will take a 90.1 per cent stake in a new mobile operator with TIW taking the remainder. TIW is to finance the purchase of the licence, and Hutchison is to provide a guaranteed loan facility. Hutchison executives told analysts the price the company and TIW paid per subscriber for the 3G licence in Britain was about US$2,100 to US$2,500. Assuming a subscriber base of four million to six million, the price for the 3G licence was much lower than the price Hutchison received for Orange. That sale price was valued at more than US$9,000 for each subscriber.