Wing Hang Bank is interested in acquiring loan assets of other lenders after tightening its exposure last year to minimise the impact of unsecured personal lending. In announcing the bank's annual results yesterday, chairman Patrick Fung Yuk-bun said: 'We have an interest in acquiring [loan] assets, and we have been frequently monitoring what we can buy from the market.' Despite shying away from consumer lending last year, Wing Hang Bank reported higher than expected bad-debt charges as it became the latest lender to take a hit from Hong Kong's bankruptcy problems. Net profit last year dropped 12.6 per cent to HK$680.7 million from HK$778.9 million as provision costs increased 10.6 per cent to HK$468 million from HK$423 million. Mr Fung said 40 per cent, or HK$187.2 million, of its provisions were related to personal unsecured loans or credit cards. Wing Hang Bank's loan book last year slid 3.1 per cent to HK$34.4 billion from HK$35.5 billion in 2001. This was led by an 11.6 per cent drop in residential mortgages - which were 27.7 per cent of total loans. The bank said it had tightened its credit-card approval process and cut card numbers, resulting in a 32.9 per cent drop in receivables to HK$310.7 million. Its credit card charge-off ratio stood at 14.3 per cent. Net interest margins fell to 2.62 per cent from 2.77 per cent in 2001, as yields on residential mortgages and return on free funds declined. A final dividend of 79 HK cents per share was declared, lifting the pay-out ratio to 50 per cent from 46 per cent. A special dividend of 66 HK cents will also be paid. Mr Fung said the bank would not rule out increasing its dividend pay-out ratio in the low-growth conditions to return funds to shareholders. Looking ahead, he said the bank would expand its loan book by lending to Hong Kong businesses in the Pearl River Delta region - particularly those in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. He said it would apply to the People's Bank of China to open a representative office in Beijing.