Market Report: ICI slumps on expectation of huge cash call

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The Independent Online
THOUGHTS of a pounds 1bn rights issue haunted shares of Imperial Chemical Industries yesterday.

They slumped 42p to 1,076p as the stock market braced itself for a cash call to be announced with the yearly results on Thursday.

The daunting possibility of having to absorb the expected demands of ICI, still regarded as the bellwether of UK industry, had an unsettling influence, although a firm New York helped cut the decline, as measured by the FT-SE 100 index, to 1.7 points at 2,838.3.

ICI will undoubtedly produce dismal figures. A 10-year low of pounds 525m, against pounds 843m, is expected. The rights possibility has arisen because of the planned flotation of the Zeneca drugs division. The feeling is that the split will be confirmed although it may not be implemented for, perhaps, six months.

The pounds 1bn cash is likely to be split between the two businesses, although not necessarily in equal proportions.

Other looming profit announcements contributed to what was, at best, an uneasy calm. SmithKline Beecham, figures today, fell 11p to 421p; British Gas, reporting on Thursday, lost 2.5p to 285p.

But it was not one-way traffic. National Westminster Bank shrugged off fears a rights issue will accompany today's figures, gaining 14p to 459p.

British Petroleum reflected the firmer crude price with a 4.5p gain to 270p. Shell, wounded by the foreign exchange loss at its Japanese subsidiary, gave up 6p to 575p.

At one time it seemed the market was set for its quietest day of the year with the rumps of three successful rights issues, Asda, Burton Group and Wessex Water, comfortably placed.

Then it became apparent that Smith New Court had quietly conducted a big programme trade - at least pounds 100m.

Bass, the brewing and hotel group, was one under the SNC whip - although the programme trade may have been incidental.

In two days last week Bass shares gained 27p following, it seemed, successful contacts with the market. But, as if to prove the adage it takes two views to make a market, SNC cut its current-year forecast from pounds 585m to pounds 550m. The shares fell 14p to 590p.

Interest charges and the fierce competition following the Government's Beer Orders are the main influences behind the SNC revision. The hotel group Queens Moat Houses, which has arranged to franchise eight hotels to the Bass Holiday Inn chain, fell 1.5p to 52.5p.

Tate & Lyle, the sugar group, jumped 14p to 420p as the market became aware of better-than-expected trading. The company's broker, Hoare Govett, made confident noises and most investment houses upgraded.

Kwik Save, the supermarket chain, gained 9p to 828p, responding to the increased Dairy Farm stake. A James Capel suggestion that investors should switch out of Kwik Save into Iceland Frozen Foods did, however, add 2p to Iceland at 682p.

BT rose 5.5p to 406p, reflecting the success of the final call and the indicated link with the Ross Perot computer operation. The appointment of Don Cruickshank as director-general of Oftel was received calmly.

Glaxo Holdings remained weak, unsettled by bullish comment from Astra, the Swedish group producing Losec, the main rival to its Zantac ulcer drug.

Union Discount advanced 6p to 115p as some took the view that the takeover saga could be completed this week. An overseas group remains the favourite to pounce, although the shape of any deal is still unclear.

The engineer Whessoe slipped 6p to 319p. The hostile bidder McLeod Russel has picked up 5.62 million shares and now has a 7 per cent stake. McLeod slipped 2p to 96p.

Builders tended to edge ahead. Trencherwood, on recovery prospects, doubled to 14p. Properties were firm, with Hammerson attracting renewed takeover attention and the ordinary shares 19p higher at 324p

Tottenham Hotspur, interim results on Thursday, gained 14p to 104p. Its rival Manchester United scored a 4p gain to 377p, just 8p below the June 1991 flotation price.

Some of the smaller groups continued to attract keen attention. The retailer Blacks Leisure was busily traded, with the shares unchanged at 26p. Scottish Amicable has almost 9 per cent of the capital.

Ferranti International was another to create interest, although the shares shaded 0.25p at 15p; Wilton Group, an electrical and toy distributor, also saw plenty of action, even if the price stuck resolutely at 1.25p.

Ticketing Group, the old Expedier Leisure, which is making claims to be the market's most actively traded share, had another busy session, with volume reaching 7.8 million and the shares remaining at 2.25p.

The management consultant P-E International rose 3p to 66p. It has won a computer out-sourcing contract, its first, with Standard Life. The group is expected to produce its 1992 results next month, probably about pounds 1m, down from pounds 1.6m.

Another lacklustre day. The FT-SE 100 index finished 1.7 points lower at 2,838.3 after moving between a 7.8 loss and a 2.3 gain. The FT-SE 250 index rose 0.7 to 3,049. Volume was 553.2 million shares with 27,865 bargains. Government stocks recovered early losses, closing largely unchanged.

Expect developments at Amberley Group, which offers building preservation services. A consortium, including Stephen Dean of the old Dean & Bowes pub refurbishing group, has gathered 14.9 per cent at 27p a share. Amberley is seeking acquisitions that might baffle the unquoted Peter Cox stone-restoring group, which has 29.9 per cent and seemed set to reverse into Amberley.

Essex Furniture, running 13 niche furniture stores, continues its recession-defying performance. It lifted half-time profits from pounds 375,000 to pounds 619,000 and should hit pounds 1.1m (against pounds 727,000) for the year. The interim dividend is up from 1.25p to 1.5p. It is keen to expand and will open three outlets in the next few months and hopes to lift its chain to 20 by the year end.

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