Net profit at Bank of Communications, the mainland's fifth-largest lender, hit only the lower end of market forecasts with a rise of 65.18 per cent last year to 20.27 billion yuan (HK$22.26 billion) from the previous year. Despite robust fee income gains, the bottom line was below the median estimate of 21.23 billion yuan given by a Thomson Financial survey. When announcing results yesterday, chairman Jiang Chaoliang noted the global impact of the United States subprime crisis. Referring to comments by US President George Bush that the US welcomed international capital, including flows from sovereign wealth funds, Mr Jiang said it was 'the very first time' such a comment had been made by the country's leadership. 'It means the US subprime crisis has come to a point whereby it seeks attention from Chinese banks,' he said. Mr Jiang said the lender was interested in acquiring assets in the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific but would proceed with caution. 'We already have some targets on hand, but we have to be cautious,' he said, since the full extent of the subprime crisis was not yet known. Net fee and commission income last year surged 137.21 per cent from a year earlier to 7.1 billion yuan, the bank reported. Interest income grew 36.03 per cent to 54.14 billion yuan. The lender expects its domestic loan growth this year to slow slightly from 19.27 per cent last year as it continues to shift its focus away from business lending to personal loans. 'Still, we expect our loan growth to be much higher than the industry level,' chief financial officer Yu Yali said. Like other mainland banks, Bocom is diversifying to ease the impact of a tightening monetary policy and lower stock market turnover. The bank holds licences for asset management, leasing and trust services. It also wanted to enter the insurance business by buying China Life Insurance's stake in China Life-CMG, a joint venture between China Life and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, in which China Life held 51 per cent, mainland magazine Caijing reported in January. 'We are now waiting for approval from regulators, hoping to become the first group of domestic lenders to buy into insurers,' said Mr Jiang, without naming any target. Bocom declared a final dividend of 15 fen a share. Separately, the bank yesterday said it would issue its first batch of yuan-dominated bonds, worth five billion yuan, in Hong Kong. The lender said the bond would range from 1 to 3 years for institutional and retail investors, depending on changes in the interest rate environment and demand from investors. Mainland banks launched the first offshore yuan bonds in Hong Kong last year.