Panva Gas Holdings aims at landing two more gas supply projects to bring the company's total investments in new ventures to 800 million yuan this year. The move is part of the company's strategy of rapid expansion through acquisitions and mergers. Vice-chairman Francis Tang Yui-man said the investment target reflected the quick pace of the company's development when compared with last year's investments of about 300 million yuan. 'Piped gas retail sales and gas pipeline construction will be our growth driver for the next three to five years,' Mr Tang said. Panva Gas posted a 26.38 per cent year-on-year gain in net profit to $167.63 million for the nine months to September. Turnover rose 22.95 per cent year on year to $1.28 billion. Earnings per share were 16.41 cents on a diluted basis. The mainland gas supplier, which has bought mostly controlling stakes in regional government-owned piped gas projects, is in an acquisition race with fast-growing competitors which include large player Hong Kong and China Gas and smaller rivals Xinao Gas Holdings and Wah Sang Gas Holdings. The gas suppliers are capitalising on the urbanisation of rural areas and the country's shift to gas from coal for fuel. Panva Gas has budgeted about one billion yuan for acquisitions next year. On Wednesday, the company struck a deal to buy 61 per cent of state-owned Qiqihar Gas in Heilongjiang for 77 million yuan, bringing the number of new projects to six with a total investment value of 567 million yuan this year. The company, which has about $2.3 billion cash on hand, is seeking investment opportunities mostly in small and medium-sized cities with an internal return rate of at least 15 per cent. Although the company has raised about $2.55 billion in three fund-raising exercises in the past 18 months, it is considering a merger with a larger rival to help it match the quick development pace, according to Mr Tang. 'We are in talks over a possible merger with a big firm to help us grow quickly, but we can't give any timeframe or name any of the prospective partners now,' Mr Tang said.