Red-chip conglomerate China Resources Enterprise (CRE) said first-half underlying profit rose 16 per cent as earnings from its retail, beverage and food businesses surged. The Beijing-backed company, which is refocusing on retail and consumer products, said yesterday it earned HK$1.265 billion in the first six months of this year, up a mere 0.2 per cent from HK$1.262 billion a year earlier. Excluding HK$367 million of one-time gains from property revaluation and asset sales, profit rose 16 per cent to HK$899 million, said managing director Mark Chen Shulin. Revaluation and other one-time gains were HK$484 million in the same period last year. CRE will pay a dividend of 14 HK cents per share, against 13 HK cents in the same period last year. As part of its restructuring, the company is selling its oil and natural gas assets. Mr Chen said he hoped to seal the deal by the end of the year. 'Many investors are interested in our petroleum assets, but we want to sell at a high price' and that took time, he said, adding that the process had taken longer than the company expected. He would not rule out the possibility that the ultimate buyer might be CRE's unlisted parent, China Resources (Holdings). Although most of the proceeds from a sale would be used to expand its core retailing, food and beverage and textile businesses, Mr Chen said some of the cash might be disbursed as a special dividend to shareholders. CRE, through its joint venture with SABMiller, the world's third-largest brewer, added six new breweries in the first half, mainly through acquisitions. It now operates more than 40 breweries with an annual production capacity of 6.6 million kilolitres as of June 30. Profit from the beverage business surged 26 per cent to HK$75 million in the first half due to a 31 per cent jump in sales to 2.44 million kilolitres and a 3.3 per cent rise in the average selling price. The company's share in the mainland beer market rose two percentage points to 14.9 per cent. Mr Chen denied that one beer unit had paid bribes to beer retailers in order to boost sales in Chongqing, Sichuan province. Mainland newspapers have reported that its 31.6 per cent-owned CR Blue Sword (Guangan) is under investigation by the city's authorities over allegations that it paid bribes worth 3.8 million yuan. 'As a listed firm with a state-owned background, we always remind our business units to comply with the law,' Mr Chen said, adding CRE was talking to the Chongqing authorities to clear up the matter.