Ming An (Holdings), a non-life insurer partly owned by Cheung Kong (Holdings), said it would more than double the number of its branches on the mainland this year to tap the fast-growing insurance market. The announcement came as the Hong Kong-listed insurer yesterday posted 134.4 per cent growth in net profit to HK$717 million last year from HK$306 million in 2006, thanks to a one-off gain of HK$555 million from the sale of its stake in Pacific Century Insurance Holdings and higher investment income. However, it recorded a HK$33.55 million underwriting loss as net claims rose 80 per cent and operating expenses gained 36.8 per cent on the back of its mainland expansion. Turnover rose 25.1 per cent to HK$1.35 billion from HK$1.08 billion. Ming An, which has 29 outlets on the mainland, plans to open this year eight provincial-level branches in inland provinces such as Hubei, Anhui and Henan, and 41 sub-branches. Each provincial branch would cost about HK$2 million and each sub-branch, HK$800,000, chief executive Peng Wei said. Last year, the mainland contributed 32.2 per cent of the insurer's premiums, up from 22 per cent in the previous year, while Hong Kong accounted for the remainder. Chairman Feng Xiaozeng said he was confident the insurer could generate more than half of revenues from the mainland within two years. 'We see this year as a critical year for us because we will allocate more resources to speed up our expansion on the mainland,' Mr Feng said. 'On the completion of the new branch openings, we can better share the cream of the fast-growing insurance market on the mainland.' Mr Peng expected motor insurance, which contributed 34.7 per cent of total premium income last year, to keep growing this year, as the automobile sector accounts for about 70 per cent of the mainland non-life insurance market. Olive Xia, an analyst at Core Pacific-Yamaichi, says the insurer's plan to expand into the mainland market is good but competition in the non-life insurance segment is keen. 'Non-life insurers on the mainland can't differentiate their products much, so they compete for price and brands,' said Ms Xia. 'Ming An, as a small insurer, lags big players such as PICC Property and Casualty in brand recognition, so it's not easy for them to earn money although the market is huge.' Shares of Ming An closed 7.19 per cent lower at HK$1.29 yesterday. The company declared a final dividend of 3 HK cents per share.