Market Report: Bearish noises from ICI set cat among pigeons

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The Independent Online
CHEMICAL shares felt the heat as a surprising combination of Rob Margetts, an Imperial Chemical Industries director, and Martin Evans, chemical analyst at Hoare Govett, made decidedly bearish noises.

ICI fell 23p to 773p and BOC 21.5p to 638.5p.

Chemical shares have been under pressure on worries of increased competition, with ICI suffering the additional disadvantages of a sell recommendation from Goldman Sachs, the big US investment house, and an array of London downgradings.

Mr Margetts, speaking at a chemical conference, declared that only groups 'which can achieve and sustain international competitiveness will survive over the next 10 years'.

He said the emergence of new competitors had already increased pressure, which would continue to intensify.

Mr Margetts held forth ICI's demerger from Zeneca as an example of the single-mindedness needed to achieve international strength. Hoare directed its fire at BOC. Mr Evans cut this year's profit forecast from pounds 340m to pounds 295m and next from pounds 380m to pounds 330m.

The rest of the stock market took its lead from the chemical implosion. The FT-SE 100 index slumped 41.8 points to 3,372 and the FT-SE 250 index 24.6 to 3,864.6.

With the latest Whitehall indications seemingly reducing still further the chance of a near-term interest rate cut and New York's record-breaking run apparently coming to an abrupt halt, the market encountered some determined futures and cash selling.

Great Universal Stores fell 27.5p to 592.5p as traders scented that Smith New Court had failed to get away all the 13 million shares it took on board at 600p on Tuesday.

It is generally accepted that SNC has about 4 million shares still in its satchel and the overhang will inhibit GUS shares until it is cleared.

Food retailers staged a firm performance, helped by positive comments from SG Warburg. Tesco, up 6p at 235.5p, is due to make a trading statement on Wednesday, which some believe will be accompanied by indications that its rapid superstore expansion is about to be reined back.

Argyll, the Safeway chain, was firm at 295p. Bill Myers at Yamaichi said buy.

BAT Industries lost further ground on profit downgradings, falling 12p to 526p. Rank Organisation, reporting today, shed another 12p to 981p.

Eurotunnel, as the cross- Channel war of words on prices settled down, rose 10p to 618p in response to its statement that early bookings were encouraging. But such a comment left P&O deeper in the water, down 13p at 617p.

Bass, the brewing group, fell 7p to 555p. It is rumoured to be near to raising cash by selling its dominating stake in the Britvic soft drinks group, which it runs with Allied-Lyons and Whitbread. PepsiCo, the US drinks giant, is the name in the frame. Bass has let it be known it is trying to expand its Holiday Inn operation into the former Soviet Union.

Invesco, the fund management group, improved 6p to 206p, with UBS thought to be providing support. But TI Group eased 13p to 438p as Credit Lyonnais Laing made negative comments.

Geest suffered further from the banana rot, down 19p at 257p, and the departure of the chief executive and a profit warning left the waste disposal group Shanks & McEwan 15p lower at 97p.

Paper and pacakaging shares were strong on reports of price increases, and selected building shares moved forward on continuing hopes of economic recovery.

Donelon Tyson, the obscure Cheshire civil engineer, shaded 1p to 22p as Morgan Stanley, the US securities houses, continued its pursuit of the shares. US financial muscle now accounts for 11.65 per cent, following more buying.

Carrs Milling Industries, the bakery and flour group, followed Tuesday's run with a 51p jump to 217p. The forecast of a pounds 2m profit at the company's yearly meeting at Carlisle, which took hours to reach the stock market, was behind the advance.

Kells Minerals, suspended at 21p, returned at 37p, easing to 31p. Shareholders approved the pounds 5.5m share-exchange takeover of World Fluids, a gas and oil blender.

Signet, the old Ratners jewellery group, fell 1.5p to 30p. But there was keen interest in the convertible preference shares, up 5.75p to 59p. In the expected reorganisation the preference shareholders should fare much better than the holders of the ordinary shares.

Laser Scan, a computer group specialising in geographical information, and Courtyard Leisure, running wine bars in London, were the latest tiddlers to attract attention.

Vague talk of an acquisition lifted Laser Scan 12p to 35p; Courtyard, where speculation about unquoted takeovers has bubbled before, gained 5p to 23p.

Watch Enviromed, the health care group that came to market at 110p in June. Hopes are running high that a significant medical takeover will be announced soon, together with an increased involvement in the US market. Even without the deals, Enviromed is rumoured to be set for profits of pounds 1.5m this year against pounds 546,000. The shares fell 4p to 140p yesterday.

Shares of Atreus, the shower screen and mirror supplier, could be down the proverbial plughole today. After the market closed it announced profits would be lower than the expected pounds 1.1m. The shares, following a reverse takeover of the old URS International in March last year, opened at a disappointing 21.5p, against hopes of 30p. They closed 1p down at 20p yesterday.

The FT-SE 100 index fell 41.8 points to 3,372 and the FT-SE 250 index 24.6 to 3,864.6. Turnover was 807.6 million shares with 35,085 deals. The account ends tomorrow with settlement on 24 January. Government stocks were firm.

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