Market Report: ICI puts some fizz into a slow market

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IMPERIAL Chemical Industries encouraged a reluctant stock market yesterday. As shares struggled in the quietest trading so far this year, ICI, buoyed by American enthusiasm, jumped 46p to 1,175p, its highest since October.

It is due to announce its interims later this month. The figures will be disappointing, perhaps as low as pounds 525m against pounds 843m. But sugaring the pill should be Zeneca, ICI's drugs division.

The chairman, Sir Denys Henderson, has promised a decision on the signalled Zeneca demerger at the time of the results. The market believes the spin-off will go ahead. And, underlining the self-feeding element of its conviction, the higher the ICI price, the more likely Sir Denys and his colleagues are to sanction the separation.

The US interest is, on the surface, surprising. New York has in recent months taken a decidedly cautious attitude towards drug shares. Glaxo Holdings has been one of the main casualties. But there are faint signs of second thoughts with, for example, Glaxo up 18p to 667p.

The still tender drugs revival has the Americans thinking about Zeneca, and with the residual chemical side expected to achieve a significant recovery this year, ICI has acquired transatlantic appeal.

Its performance was responsible for more than two points of the FT-SE 100 index advance of 7.1 at 2,870. With the FT-SE 250 index edging ahead, the 350 measure, combining the two, ended at its best level, up 2.8 at 1,416.5.

The rest of the market continued to fret about possible rights issues, although Kingfisher, one of the prime candidates, edged forward a few coppers to 531p on the belief that any cash call could be limited to pounds 350m.

Trafalgar House, the construction and leisure group also regarded as a sure-fire cash call candidate, fell 4p to 87p.

Eurotunnel, up 12p at 468p, was helped by stories that it was at last about to reach an agreement with its contractors. Talk of mobile telephone health problems nudged Vodafone Group 6p lower to 395p.

Tiphook, the container leasing and rental group, held off a downgrading, thought to be from James Capel. The shares held at 336p. The reduction is from pounds 84m to pounds 77m and from pounds 95m to pounds 86m.

Vaux Group, the brewing, hotel and nursing home group, held at 232p. Analysts are due to visit its Sunderland headquarters today.

Allied Colloids, another under analytical scrutiny, improved 3p to 243p.

Armour Trust, the car accessory and confectionery group, added 2p to 48.5p, after topping 50p. Directors have acquired 30,000 shares. But the share strength stems from the hovering presence of Grand Central Investment Holdings, which has a declared 24 per cent interest and is thought to have approached big shareholders, seeking their stock.

Acorn Computers' remarkable run continued, up 18.5p to 146p. Watts Blake Bearne, the china clay group where a near controlling stake is on the market, gained 22p to 470p. The shareholding has a minimum price of 433p.

Merivale Moore, the hard-pressed property group, jumped 6.5p to 27p. A legal wrangle has been settled in its favour. The company talks about a 'significant' payment, although the final amount has still to be settled.

Prospect Industries edged ahead 0.5p to 19p. It has won a pounds 20m maintenance and repair contract at PowerGen's Ferrybridge site in West Yorkshire. The group's order book is now worth more than pounds 50m.

Automated Security (Holdings), the security systems group, rose 3p to 140p on its up-to-pounds 7.4m takeover of BT's residential security business. BT, third-quarter figures on Thursday, fell 6p to 416.5p, partly on the cellular health scare. The partly paid, where the final call is due shortly, were down 6p at 311.5p. BT's figures are likely to be around pounds 745m, against pounds 759m.

Alexander Workwear, the clothing group, rose 4p to 118p as Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull put out a buy recommendation.

It expects losses of pounds 500,000 to be transformed into profits of pounds 1.5m in the year just ended, with pounds 4.1m likely this year.

The engineer James Wilkes advanced 9p to 53p. Its former chairman, Stephen Hinchliffe, has lifted his shareholding to 10.2 per cent, buying 1.5 per cent from TSB Group. It seems Mr Hinchliffe wants to average down the cost of his stake, much of which was acquired at nearer 190p.