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Footsie threat to Inchcape

INCHCAPE, the beleaguered car distributor, is set to be banished from the FT-SE 100 (the Footsie) index of blue-chip companies after its share price fell by almost a fifth last week, wiping more than pounds 270m off the company's stock market value.

The mauling leaves Inchcape worth just pounds 1.3bn, and makes it the most likely candidate to step aside for the National Grid, the UK power transmission company that will go straight into the FT-SE 100 index when official dealings start on 11 December.

A regular meeting of the Stock Exchange's UK committee on 6 December will almost certainly seal Inchcape's fate as the main criterion for FT-SE 100 membership is market worth. Inchcape's removal from the Footsie would mean the withdrawal of some index-tracking funds from the share, which could prompt further share-price weakness in the run-up to Christmas.

"I'm absolutely certain Inchcape will drop out of the Footsie in two weeks' time," says Nyren Scott-Malden, analyst at broker BZW.

He is one of many to slash results forecasts recently, after profit warnings this month from motor dealer Evans Halshaw and car-hire specialist Eurodollar, plus poor trading conditions in France and Hong Kong.

Worse, Inchcape is particularly vulnerable to a strong Japanese yen; every 5 per cent movement in the currency is estimated to hit the bottom line to the tune of pounds 13m, though the blow can be softened by hedging.

Brokers now expect pre-tax profits of around pounds 140m before exceptional charges for 1995, versus pounds 231m in 1994. Inchcape itself admits the omens are poor. "The situation isn't very promising," said a spokesman. "We will have to go some in the next few weeks to stay in the index."