ICI, the chemicals group, topped the FTSE 100 risers yesterday after supplying no unexpected nasty surprises with its quarterly results, despite a slip in earnings.
The company posted a £5m fall in pre-tax profit to £85m for the first quarter of 2001, but this was within the range of City expectations.
Even a warning about prospects in the US failed to spook the market as ICI, which has restructured itself in the last few years, pointed to the benefits of its wide geographical spread. The company's shares closed up 4 per cent at 427.5p.
Charles Miller Smith, the chairman, said: "A robust sales and profit performance, despite difficult trading conditions in the United States, demonstrates the quality and resilience of the ICI business."
The company said an excellent performance in Asia, and solid progress in Europe and Latin America, more than offset a 2 per cent decline in North American sales. Overall turnover was up 8 per cent
at £1.64bn at continuing operations.
The company's troubled National Starch business in the US saw operating profit fall 19 per cent to £53m, compared with the first quarter of 2000, hit by the economic slowdown in the country and high raw materials costs. ICI said it would carry through cost-cutting measures, especially at
National Starch, and added that material prices should have peaked.
Tim Scott, the company's chief financial officer said: "Our evidence on what is happening in the US economy is very spotty. There is really not enough evidence to have any confidence on predicting when the upturn will happen."
A £190m rise in net debt was greater than expected by some analysts, taking total net borrowings to £3bn. The company said the rise was partly due to £100m in "legacy costs" related to the divestment of Chlor-
Chemicals, Klea and Crosfield, the last of its bulk chemicals businesses, at the end
of last year.