Aeon Stores (Hong Kong), formerly Jusco Stores, blamed a 24.8 per cent fall in its first-half net profit on a stock clearance to make space for self-branded higher-end products. The Japanese retail giant's Hong Kong flagship saw its net income drop to HK$28 million for the six months to June from HK$37.3 million a year ago, the company announced yesterday. Turnover rose 8 per cent to HK$2.83 billion. The company maintained its interim dividend at last year's level of 5.5 HK cents per share. Company spokeswoman Jenny Chan said the stock clearance, which lasted longer and offered bigger discounts than previous sales, was a one-off that was the main reason for the chain's 0.9 percentage point drop in gross margin. Aeon operates seven small department stores, 10 Jusco $10 Plazas and two supermarkets in Hong Kong, as well as nine department stores on the mainland. Its Hong Kong operations accounted for 67 per cent of its revenue in the first half, while the mainland units contributed the remainder. Sales grew 5 per cent in Hong Kong and rose 18 per cent on the mainland. The company, which has since May last year opened two Hong Kong supermarkets - in Kwun Tong and Lam Tin - will invest HK$20 million to open a 31,000 square foot supermarket at Grand Waterfront Plaza in To Kwa Wan next year. Managing director Soul Lam Man-tin said the opening of Aeon's first mainland shopping mall, in Shunde city in Guangdong, would be delayed until the first half of next year due to construction impediments. The firm had been hoping the 60 million yuan mall would start operations at the end of this year.