China Unicom suffered its first profit decline last year since it listed four years ago, citing growing pains in the key CDMA segment and larger than expected losses from the disposal of its twilight paging business. The disappointing results may further undermine investor confidence in the mainland's No2 mobile provider, already shaky after the firm announced weak growth in the CDMA segment last week. China Unicom has posted four consecutive months of declines in CDMA subscriber growth. The firm yesterday announced earnings of 4.21 billion yuan for last year, down 8.28 per cent from 2002. A poll of 23 brokers by Thomson First Call last week estimated net profit growth of 16.57 per cent. China Unicom booked a 663 million yuan loss from the sale of its Guoxin Paging division to its parent, China United Telecommunications Corp. Operating margin dropped to 11.8 per cent from 19.1 per cent in 2002. Revenue rose 66.68 per cent to 67.63 billion yuan, thanks to contributions from nine new provincial networks it acquired from its parent. Earnings per share were 33.6 fen, down from 36.6 fen in the previous year. The company declared a final dividend of 10 fen. Some analysts cautioned against judging the results too negatively, as the potential for CDMA subscriber growth remained enormous. BOCI analyst Allan Ng forecast an expected turnaround in China Unicom's CDMA business this year would yield an estimated one billion yuan in profits. He projected profits at the company would grow 70 per cent this year to 7.2 billion yuan. Shares of China Unicom fell 1.8 per cent to $8.15 yesterday.