The one-minute expert

Your essential companion to this week's big event : ICI

Imperial Chemical Industries, right?

Heavens, no. Former chairman Sir Denys Henderson insisted it stood for Innovative, Competitive, International.

The same Sir Denys who almost lost ICI to Hanson?

Yup - though there was never a formal bid.

The same Sir Denys who had to split ICI into two to get the share price up?

Yup again, though this was of course a strategic move. Nothing to do with Hanson. Sir Denys said so.

He said it stood for Innovative, Competitive, International?

Well it's better than Internet Central Indiana. Just.

Why is it in the news?

Its third-quarter results are out this week. The market believes they won't make pretty reading.

Why not?

The PET market has gone sour, for one thing.

They sell animals?

No, it's a polymer used to make soft drinks bottles. There's too much of it about and its price has fallen by a quarter this year. ICI warned about that in June; the brokers say it will only make pounds 820m this year, against pounds 950m last time.

ICI was once a great world force, wasn't it?

It was formed in 1926 to divvy up the chemicals world with Du Pont of the US and Germany's IG Farben. No boring monopoly laws then.

So what happened?

ICI got the British Empire, which was a bum deal. IG Farben got broken up after supplying Zyklon B gas to the Nazis but its three successor companies are now each bigger than ICI. And Dupont invented nylons. ICI managers compared themselves with "the senior civil service" even in the Sixties, so it's not surprising things didn't get better.

But didn't thingy with the lurid ties rescue it?

Sir John Harvey-Jones did some good work. He and everyone since have been obsessed with getting into high-margin products, rather than riding the economic cycles like the Germans.

High margins, like pharmaceuticals?

Exactly - except ICI doesn't make them any more. The company that split from it, Zeneca, does instead.

So what does it actually make?

Oh, chemicals, paints, fertilisers and explosives. And PET.

But aren't those cyclical businesses?

Er, yes.

So is it innovative, etc?

Not particularly - but the current chairman, Sir Ronnie Hampel, is an extremely nice chap.

That's all right then.

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