THE Singapore Telecom Group yesterday announced a 20.9 per cent increase in operating profit for the six months to September 30, putting it on course to achieve, if not beat, its profit forecast for the year. The prospectus for the recent Singapore Telecom share issue forecast an annual operating profit growth of 17.4 per cent and the half-yearly result should further boost investor confidence in the stock. The shares have continued to trade strongly since the firm's debut a week ago, despite a weakening of the index. They closed at S$3.90 yesterday, 30 cents higher than the tender strike price of $3.60. Singapore Telecom's six-month operating profit was S$738 million (about HK$3.58 billion). An increase of $128 million from the same period last year was attributed mainly to high revenue growth and relatively slower growth in operating expenses. The group's turnover grew by 13.8 per cent, against 11 per cent for each of the past two years. Mr Koh attributed the strong results mainly to the strength of the Singapore economy and some major events in the period, such as the Southeast Asia Games, which boosted international calls revenue. International direct dialling (IDD) accounts for 50 per cent of Singapore Telecom's revenue, with cellular mobile and paging services (15 per cent of revenue) the fastest growing area. Group pre-tax profit increased by $128 million, 19.7 per cent, to $777 million. Profit after tax and minority interests grew by $94 million, 18.8 per cent, to $596 million. An extraordinary profit of $44.2 million was realised on the disposal of Singapore Press Holdings shares after the Government enforced a three per cent shareholding limit on ownership of the media group. Profit attributable to shareholders amounted to $640 million, up 27.6 per cent. Group earnings per share before extraordinary items improved by 0.62 cents, 18.8 per cent, to 3.91 cents. The company's operating profit was $667 million, up 22.5 per cent. The company and Singapore Post contributed 90 per cent and six per cent respectively to the group's operating profit.