Investment: Elementis hit by strong pound

THE CHEMICALS sector has been knocked for six by the strong pound, and Elementis, the former Harrisons & Crosfield business, has proved no exception. Currency movements and the Asian downturn knocked pounds 2.8m and pounds 1.8m off profits respectively in the first half, reducing pre-tax profits to pounds 36m compared to last year's pounds 42.5m.

All this has weighed heavily on the shares which were battered further by ICI's profits warning last month.

This is harsh on a company which has completely re-invented itself under its chief executive, Bill Turcan. It has jettisoned its conglomerate tag by selling its timber, petfoods and agricultural foodstuffs operations to concentrate on speciality chemicals. It has bought Rheox, a maker of additives for paints, for pounds 277m and returned pounds 402m to shareholders. The only part still up for sale is the BOCM Pauls animal feeds business which is expected to go its management for around pounds 65m.

With Rheox, Elementis is now a world leader in additives for paints. Its other main division, chromium, is a major force in the world market and this business improved profits to pounds 17m from pounds 16m in the half.

However, there is work to do. The pigments business, which has been hit by the loss of a major US customer and weak demand in Europe, is being re-structured as costs in America are too high. This is on schedule to deliver substantial cost saving from the year 2000.

On analysts' full-year forecasts of pounds 67m, the shares - unchanged at 138.5p yesterday - trade on a forward multiple of 12. Given the volatility in the sector that seems about right.

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