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ICI sells detergent company for $455m

ICI continued the re-shaping of its chemicals operations yesterday when it sold its Crosfield business to an American buyer for $455m (pounds 277m). Crosfield, which makes ingredients for detergents, paper and surface coatings, was acquired by ICI as part of its pounds 4.8bn acquisition of Unilever's speciality chemicals division last year. However, it was seen as being at the more basic end of speciality chemicals and an isolated business in the ICI portfolio as the group concentrates increasingly on higher value chemicals rather than commodity products.

The business has been acquired by WR Grace & Co of Florida, a pounds 1.5bn enterprise with interests in silica-based products and building materials.

Crosfield was founded in Warrington as a salt maker in 1815 but moved into making soap products in 1861. The Warrington site employs 512 workers whom ICI said would be transferred with the business. The group has a total of 1,400 employees worldwide.

It recorded operating profits of $21m on sales of $270m last year. The price represents 1.7 times annual sales and ICI said the deal would be immediately earnings-enhancing. One analyst said the price was "awesome" given the business has been hit by the strength of the pound. Analysts said the disposals were further evidence that ICI would not tolerate under- performance from any of its businesses.

Since the Unilever deal, ICI has been busily exiting the bulk chemicals sector. The total value of disposals made by ICI is now more than pounds 4bn, close to the price paid for Unilever's speciality chemicals operations.

The shares were unchanged at 1125p.