PROFITS at Standard Chartered's regional merchant banking operation doubled last year as the group raked in cash from share offerings and syndicated loans. Standard Chartered Asia Pacific Group pre-tax profits were US$53.9 million (about HK$420 million), compared with $26.9 million in 1992. Pre-tax and attributable profits at the Hong Kong operation, Standard Chartered Asia, actually fell but profits before exceptional items rose from HK$74.05 million to $85.13 million, a more modest gain of 15 per cent and in line with former partner Schroders Asia, which last week announced a profit increase of 19 per cent. Standard Chartered Asia managed more Hong Kong IPOs (initial public offerings) and China B share issues than any other merchant bank, the company said, but many of its clients were relatively small industrial companies. In 1992, the company led the pack for Hong Kong IPOs, but last year fell behind Philip Tose's China-play wizards at Peregrine. Standard Chartered underwrote issues worth HK$2.6 billion in 1992, compared with $750 million by Peregrine. Last year, the situation had changed drastically with Peregrine grabbing the lion's share by value of listings, while underwriting fewer in absolute numbers. The stockbroking operations included arranging issues for Shenzhen Vanke B shares, a HK$473.85 million deal, and Paliburg Development's HK$900 million issue. The bank also underwrote issues from Leading Spirit (Holdings) Co, Egana International, Kosonic International Holdings and Nam Hing Holdings. David Stileman, chairman and chief executive of Standard Chartered Asia, said it seemed the supply of smaller flotations had now dwindled. The local operation saw a drop in advances to customers of HK$517.05 million, a fall of some 37 per cent, while investments grew to $521.77 million from $352.92 million, a rise of almost 48 per cent. Assets fell nearly 19 per cent to $1.49 billion. Mr Stileman said capital market operations had boosted Singapore's results while Hong Kong remained the stronghold for stockbroking activities. ''Profits from the debt and capital market operations performed extraordinarily well,'' he said. He said the group had just about hit the ceiling of the number of loans it could syndicate, arranging 40 last year compared with 25 to 30 in 1992 and a ''very small number in 1991''. ''How many more than 40 can you actually do? Like everyone in Hong Kong, we suffer from a limited people problem. We tend to go for the bigger deal but I don't want to cut off smaller, but high quality customers,'' he said. ''We are looking for the best deals.'' Major syndications included acting as arranger and lead manager on a loan of US$130 million for First Bangkok City Bank and a HK$300 million deal for Cafe de Coral Holdings. The group also put new offices in place in the region including gaining a full seat on the Jakarta exchange. ''This is the first year we have brought the regional businesses together, with the businesses throughout Asia collectively working together as one unit,'' Mr Stileman said. In the region, the group also arranged a number of placements, a business that Mr Stileman expected to see expanding this year with offices working on placing shares to institutions in New York and London. He said the group had ''missed out on a very substantial part'' of the boom in Hong Kong Eurobond issues and said developing a debt-issue origination business was his ''most important priority''.