Market Report: ICI fails to inspire as winning run falters

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The Independent Online
A FOUR-DAY winning run came to an abrupt halt yesterday. Shares gave ground as a weak opening in New York proved too much for a stock market already hesitating about the government reshuffle.

With most investors remaining on the sidelines ahead of the bank holiday there was little enthusiasm and, with a few sellers evident, little resistance to the downward pressure.

Sir Denys Henderson, Imperial Chemical Industries chairman, failed to offer any inspiration. At a shareholders' meeting to approve the Zeneca demerger he said the ICI rump was 'still seeing some pressure on prices' and weak demand. But Zeneca's trading 'remains steady'.

ICI shares ended their last session before the split at 1,244p, down 11p. US selling was said to be responsible. Zeneca, due to be elevated to full market membership on Tuesday, was also dull. The shares fell 8p to 632p and the nil paid rights 7p to 37p.

The decline occurred despite James Capel suggesting investors should switch some of their interest in Wellcome to Zeneca. The stockbroker feels Wellcome shares, down 23p at 771p, remain highly rated. Zeneca, however, still had a low rating.

The old ICI drugs arm will become an FT-SE 100 constituent when dealings start on Tuesday. The surprise casualty is English China Clays, which regained Footsie status only a year ago. Most had expected Fisons, which many regard as a Zeneca bid target, to make way. ECC fell 8p to 414p before its removal was known.

Amersham International was the best-performing drug share, up 17p to 705p, as Hoare Govett said buy.

Properties remained depressed by thoughts of more rights issues. MEPC is regarded as the most likely to join the cash-call bandwagon when it reports interim results on Thursday.

Already Land Securities, Brixton Estates, Hammerson and Slough Estates have raised cash this year. MEPC fell 9p to 426p.

There are suggestions that institutional investors are happy to accommodate rights demands from the leading property groups. They feel the leaders should build their cash resources to allow them to take advantage of the property opportunities that are emerging.

Beer shares, after Thursday's enthusiastic welcome for Kenneth Clarke, were subdued, although among the regionals Morland, on its strong interim figures, gained 15p to 515p and Mansfield Brewery rose 16p to 775p.

British Airways was firm at 310p as investment meetings appeared to submerge any worries over the industrial unrest at the group.

Securicor Group failed to respond to bullish noises from Capel. The voting shares held at 930p although the non-voters edged forward 3p to 599p.

The group's involvement in Cellnet, the mobile telephone group, is what attracts Capel. It believes the 40 per cent owned by Securicor and its 50.75 per cent subsidiary, Security Services, is worth around pounds 1bn.

Rumours that BT, which owns the rest of Cellnet, wants full control are never far from the surface. Capel believes BT will eventually strike a deal. Security Services edged forward 4p to 494p.

A confident shareholders' statement from the builder Taylor Woodrow, pointing out that housing reservations were 90 per cent up on last year, failed to impress, leaving the shares down 2p at 103p.

Hartstone, the hosiery and leather group, which has been under pressure from bear raiders, collapsed 57p to 34p following the disclosure that it was in talks with its lenders. The shares were 280p last year.

Mosaic Investments made a subdued return from suspension, ending at 19p against the 60p when dealings were halted eight months ago.

But the newcomer RPC Group proved that high technology shares were not the only ones capable of making spectacular debuts.

The packaging group reached 159p, compared with a placing price of 125p.

Kelt Energy stood out on the oil pitch, gaining 5p to 45p. Results of the revamped group are due soon and there are suspicions that moves to expand its operations will soon be under way.

Waverley Mining Finance, which has big holdings in gold mines, remained in demand yesterday, gaining 5.5p to 31.5p, reflecting the strength of the gold industry.

The FT-SE 100 index fell 14.6 points to 2,840.7 and the FT-SE 250 index 4.2 to 3,165.4. Turnover was 577.3 million shares with 28,650 bargains. The account ends on Friday with settlement on 14 June. Government stocks weakened.

MMI, the financial and recruitment group in the orbit of the financier Bob Morton, is on the verge of expansion. It has called for a halt to dealings in its shares as it negotiates the takeover of a group thought to be heading for profits of pounds 1m a year. The shares were frozen at 25p. Since Mr Morton moved in on struggling MMI it has acquired Moxon Dolphin & Kerby, a recruitment group.

Roger Shute, the former BM Group chief, continues to dabble in the shares of hard-pressed groups. He has lifted his stake in Scottish Heritable Trust, the heavily indebted mini-conglomerate, to 8.22 per cent. Scottish has suffered losses for three years. It was once a high flier with interests stretching from fireworks to carpets. Its shares are 6p. Six years ago they almost hit 300p.

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