STEEL trader and shipowner Noble Group has reported a sharp increase in profit to $35.35 million from $10.31 million for the six months to June 30. The better-than-expected result was achieved on the back of a 51 per cent increase in turnover, from $958 million to $1.49 billion. Earnings per share were lifted to 14.27 cents from 4.3 cents a year earlier. ''We have fine-tuned our sourcing, shipping and marketing activities, enabling us to achieve improved profit margins,'' chairman Richard Elman said. The company, which was listed on the stock exchange in June, is not paying an interim dividend as forecast in the prospectus. The group has forecast a profit of about $48 million for the full year, compared with $41.37 million last year, and a final dividend of 4.1 cents a share. Mr Elman said the group was ''optimistic'' for the remainder of the year for both its trading and shipping divisions. He said retained profits would be used to finance the group's expansion plans in Asia and the acquisition of more ships. The company plans to build up its fleet of five vessels to 10 over the next three to five years. Mr Elman said the second-hand vessels would cost between $70 million and $120 million each. The group also plans to set up a ship management company. by the end of the year to manage its own and third-party ships.