Mainland television-tube maker Irico Group Electronics aims to triple exports this year as it moves to produce large colour-picture tubes. Eventually, it would produce flat-panel displays, the company said. The group recently invested 650 million yuan in a new production line in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, which is capable of producing one million colour-picture tubes ranging from 32 to 36 inches annually. The factory will begin production next year. The television-tube maker, whose H shares were listed on the main board in December last year, aimed at increasing overseas sales to more than 30 per cent this year from 10 per cent last year, chairman Ma Jinquan said. 'China has gradually become the global television manufacturing centre, particularly for colour-picture tubes,' Mr Ma said when announcing the company's results for last year. Yun Dajun, Irico's vice-president and chief financial officer, said the group had been researching flat-panel production and last year spent 40 million yuan on development. 'The investment this year will not be smaller than the amount for last year,' Mr Yun said, adding that he could not comment on the profit margin of flat-panel displays because they were still in the development phase. Although the company had made progress on 50-inch flat-panel-display production, he said there was no timetable for when the group would enter the flat-panel market. Net profit rose 22 per cent to 385.32 million yuan last year from 315.82 million yuan in 2003. Turnover reached 4.94 billion yuan, an increase of 15.9 per cent from a year earlier. Earnings per share were 25 fen, compared with 21 fen previously. Gross profit margin fell to 21.3 per cent from 23.7 per cent. The group attributed the drop to rising raw material costs and lower television screen prices. It declined to give a margin estimate for this year. Last year, Irico sold 13.67 million television tubes, an increase of 23.1 per cent and representing 20 per cent of television tube sales in the mainland. The company opened a production line last year at Xianyang, with an annual capacity of two million 21-inch television screens. The television-tube manufacturer has eight production lines on the mainland producing colour-picture tubes ranging from 14 to 29 inches. Irico had 20,844 employees at the end of last year.