WAH KWONG PROSPECTS BRIGHTEN

WAH KWONG PROSPECTS BRIGHTEN

Restructured and newly relisted Wah Kwong Shipping Group Ltd. won't be paying any immediate dividends despite an interim profit of US$12.5 million for the six months through last Sept. 30.

It's more in the nature of a capital gain, says George Chao, managing director.But he says business is doing well and that the 32-ship fleet is appreciating in value.

The company underwent a wrenching, yearlong reorganization in 1987 as it struggled under debt of US$850 million.

Ships and property were sold - along with a world-class Chinese antique collection belonging to paterfamilias T.Y. Chao - and the family's equity was

cut to 49 percent from 55 percent.

After more than a year off the board, its shares began trading again last week. They stand at around HK$1.76 (22 U.S. cents) apiece, compared with 44 Hong Kong cents at the time of suspension.

Stock market and industry analysts say some of the big institutions that wound up with nearly 50 percent of the restructured company may now dispose of some of that stake. The Chao family is expected to maintain its holding.

A valuation last year put the worth of the 1.88 million-deadweight-ton fleet at US$357 million. Mr. Chao says it has increased since then, but won't give a figure.

In addition, our major fleet is dry cargo, and we've benefited very much by the upsurge in the market. Freight and timecharter rates have risen, with dry cargo carriers showing business up by as much as 30 percent.

The tanker side isn't very buoyant, but Mr. Chao says it's only a matter of time before that picks up as well.

The last of 14 vessels deemed non-essential were sold last year at reasonable prices, reducing the fleet by half. It leaves the company to concentrate on bulk carriers and tankers plus one containership and a combination carrier.

Wah Kwong expects to take delivery this year of a 305,000-deadweight-ton

bulk/oil ship from Taiwan's China Shipbuilding Corp. We have long-term plans to acquire more, but not until our financial position gives us better results, according to Frank Chao.

Business previously was heavily slanted toward Japan, but the new-look company intends to broaden that. The group plans to diversify its activities into other countries including China, Frank Chao said.

In its first report to shareholders since the reorganization, the directors said cash flow is running at higher levels than anticipated. The interim profit included US$3.1 million in extraordinary gains from sale of property interests abroad.

No comparable figures were given because of the radical change in the company and a switch of year-end to March 31 from Dec. 31.

In its old form, Wah Kwong Shipping & Investment Co. Ltd. reported a loss of US$44 million in the 1986 year after US$376 million in 1985.