Great Eagle takes a tumble

Kenneth Ko

GREAT Eagle Holdings has posted a 53.6 per cent drop in profit to $80.2 million for the six months ended March 31, mainly due to an absence of gains from property sales.

The previous year's interim results, amounting to $172.8 million, had been inflated by a gain of about $100 million from the sale of its 50 per cent stake in Fortress Tower.

With a substantial amount of rental income from Citibank Plaza ready to be booked into accounts, analysts are optimistic about the group's performance.

The consensus among analysts, according to the Estimate Directory, is that Great Eagle will see a 19 per cent rise in full-year profit to $448.5 million.

Great Eagle managing director Lo Ka-shui defended the interim results in a bid to allay worries about the group's prospects.

''The drop in net profit attributable to shareholders is within the group's expectations as this is mainly due to an initial negative contribution from Citibank Plaza as well as the lack of profit from disposal of property similar to that attributable tolast year's account from the disposal of Fortress Tower,'' Mr Lo said.

''With the completion of Citibank Plaza, full interest charges must be expensed out. Actual rental income was negligible because we have to give a lot of rent-free periods.

''But higher dividend payments reflect the confidence of the board regarding future earnings and prospects.'' Great Eagle will pay an interim dividend of 3.2 cents a share, against three cents previously.

Turnover for the six months rose seven per cent to $309.7 million from $289.1 million. Earnings per share were 4.4 cents, compared with 11.7 cents previously.

Mr Lo said the leasing of Citibank Plaza was very encouraging and about 65 per cent of the building was now occupied.

He said Central office vacancies should drop to near zero within a year, and that Great Eagle was well positioned to benefit from a positive office property market.

Analyst estimated that Great Eagle would receive a revenue windfall from Citibank Plaza, which has about 1.4 million sq ft of office space.

Based on the average monthly rental of $43 to $48 a square foot, the building, if fully let, could generate an annual rental income of $722 million to $806 million.

Great Eagle has a 69.5 per cent interest in the building.

In May, the group announced the sale of London Plaza in Nathan Road for $810 million to a consortium led by the New China Hongkong Group and China Resources (Holdings).

The sale is expected to realise a profit of about $450 million to $500 million for Great Eagle.

A deposit of $81 million has been received. A further $100 million is payable on August 28.

The transaction is scheduled for completion on March 28 next year.

Last month, Great Eagle sold its 75 per cent interest in cinema operator Classics Cinema.