ICI chairman gloomy despite better interims: Sir Denys and drugs chief issue warnings on recovery and healthcare sector

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The Independent Online
SIR Denys Henderson, chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, issued a stark warning on the world economy alongside better-than-expected interim results yesterday, the first since the company floated off Zeneca, the drugs and agrochemicals company.

He said the recovery in the US and UK was 'stuttering' and warned that conditions in Europe were getting worse. 'It is difficult to see any improved trend in the world economy over the next six months. The economic outlook continues to be uncertain in almost all the markets in which we operate.'

Exports had been boosted by sterling's devaluation in September but the benefits had been eroded by the subsequent strengthening of the pound and price-cutting by rivals.

Investors shrugged off the company's caution on the economy and chased the shares 15p higher to 665p. The interim dividend was in effect unchanged at 10.5p.

Taking account of the demerger and Zeneca's rights issue, ICI's shares have risen by 18 per cent since the company announced plans to split into two, a year ago today.

This means they have underperformed the market as a whole, which has gained 26 per cent.

The ICI businesses made profits of pounds 167m before tax in the six months to June, up from pounds 146m in the same period of 1992. The group, including Zeneca for five months, made profits of pounds 364m before tax, against pounds 420m in the same period a year earlier.

The results were helped by pounds 50m of savings from the continuing restructuring programme and pounds 50m benefits from sterling's devaluation.

The company has reduced costs by pounds 350m a year since 1990 and aims to cut them by a further pounds 200m annually by 1995. It shed 3,300 jobs in the first half, leaving 77,000 employees.

Sterling's devaluation helped by lifting the value of overseas results in sterling terms and boosting exports.

But Ronnie Hampel, chief executive, said that exports had become less profitable in the past two months even though volumes had not dropped.

Turnover of the ICI businesses rose by 9 per cent to pounds 2.1bn while turnover of the group (including Zeneca for five months) fell slightly to pounds 3.01bn.

ICI's sales gains reflected exchange-rate movements. Volumes rose by 2 per cent but were offset by price cuts.

Profits in industrial chemicals nearly doubled to pounds 60m before interest and there were gains in the materials and regional divisions. But profits fell in paints and explosives.

Borrowings fell to 14 per cent after the demerger of Zeneca and the sale of a fibres business to Du Pont. Capital spending was cut from pounds 382m to pounds 307m.

(Photograph omitted)