Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Cathay Financial turns NT$4.43 billion profit in Q4


Cathay Financial Holding Co (國泰金控), Taiwan's biggest financial services company, posted a profit for the fourth quarter, compared with a loss in the previous year, after the government ordered the industry to consolidate.

Profit at the company, whose flagship Cathay Life Insurance Co. (國泰人壽) is Taiwan's largest life insurer, was NT$4.43 billion (US$138 million), compared with a loss of NT$332 million a year earlier.

The latest fourth-quarter figure was derived by subtracting nine-month earnings from last year's unaudited profit announced on Monday.

Taiwan's financial shares, led by Cathay Financial, have attracted buyers as the government encourages mergers and acquisitions in the banking sector.

"Cathay Financial should see stable profit growth this year," said Parker Wu (吳年恭), who manages the equivalent of US$30 million at Shinkong Investment Trust Co (新光投信) in Taipei.

"It will continue to be one of the most attractive stocks also because of ongoing merger talks," Wu said.

On Nov. 10, Cathay Financial sold US$495 million of stock to overseas investors to help fund acquisitions sought by the government to create fewer, bigger companies.

For last year, profit at the Taipei-based company rose to NT$29.85 billion, or NT$3.70 a share, from NT$20.6 billion, or NT$2.69 a share.

SinoPac Securities Corp (建華證券) banking analyst Chu Yu-chun (朱玉君) forecast Cathay Financial would post earnings per share of NT$3.40 this year.

"Cathay actually will enjoy profit growth this year in its main business," if you consider it earned NT$5 billion in non-operating income last year, Chu said.

Non-operating income included sales of bad loans and real estate, she said.

Lee Chang-ken (李長庚), Cathay Financial's chief strategy officer, declined to give a forecast for this year.

Lee said the fourth-quarter profit was lower than the quarterly average of NT$7.5 billion because the company's banking unit wrote off about NT$1.6 billion of bad loans.

The fourth-quarter 2003 loss was because of a big write-off of bad loans, Lee said, but didn't provide the figure. SinoPac's Chu put it at NT$9 billion.

Chu forecast Cathay shares might rise to NT$77 in the next 12 months.

The shares fell 0.8 percent to NT$63.50 as of 11:44am yesterday in Taipei. They have gained 25 percent since the beginning of last year.

Taiwan's banking index has gained 18 percent since the beginning of last year, while the benchmark TAIEX added 1.6 percent.

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