Olympics to help WPP strike gold

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The City reporting season is now in full swing, and the only thing more jam-packed than last week's company diary is this week's company diary.

The City reporting season is now in full swing, and the only thing more jam-packed than last week's company diary is this week's company diary.

There will be plenty of FTSE constituents for the market to get its teeth into, and although the banks will probably hold centre stage for another week, most of the big sectors will be well represented. For the economists, the combination of so many results will give useful indications about the state of the overall economy, and perhaps help answer the big question of whether the UK can remain robust even if the US hits the rocks.

One company that will owe a lot to its American operations is the advertising behemoth WPP. The coincidence of the Sydney Olympics and the US election will have made 2000 a particularly good year, as will the many millions that were frittered away by now-defunct dot-com start-ups.

The trouble is that after the tech crash, many of its high-tech clients no longer exist, and those that do are keeping their ad spend to a minimum. Analysts will want to know what growth ideas WPP has up its sleeves, what with 2001 being a desert for big sporting events.

The full-year figures from Diageo come after a manic year of corporate activity that includes selling the Pillsbury food business to General Mills, planning a flotation of Burger King, merging the spirits and beer operations and acquiring the Seagrams drinks business. But none of this is going to flatter the results, which will struggle to live up to last year's record numbers, and will have been hit by poor Christmas sales and tough trading in the US. Nevertheless, analysts hope that the prospects for underlying growth should still be strong, especially following the highly successful launch of Smirnoff Ice in the US.

In the banking sector, Barclays and Lloyds TSB have given this week's reporters fairly hard acts to follow, although Halifax should come in with profits in line with consensus at £1.69bn. It has not been a spectacularly good year for the bank, which will be hoping to forget the bungled launch of its internet play, IF, which only served to damage the group's standing.

The industry around Halifax is in the midst of some high-profile consolidation, but the group is expected to use the results to confirm its determination to remain independent. This might give a downward bump to the shares, which have glided up steadily since the Lloyds/Abbey saga began.

The internet bank Egg, on the other hand, is almost certain to deliver another disappointing blow to any investors still grimly clinging to the dream of online wealth. "The concept of the internet bank is still unproven," said Jim Wood Smith of Gerrard, "and the market will be looking for any changes to the time scale of when Egg may make profits."

Back on the traditional banking scene, Standard Chartered is expected to deliver an impressive set of full-year numbers. Mark Eady, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, is projecting an 85 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £940m.

Although the figure is distorted by one-off gains from a disposal and goodwill amortisation, the underlying rise in profits is a mouth-watering 57 per cent.

The first combined results of GlaxoSmithKline will make for interesting listening, as it is expected to deliver a full appraisal of the new group's outlook for the future. Analysts are also hoping the meeting will give them a clearer idea of how to value the group. The merger has created the world's biggest pharmaceutical company by sales, which are forecast to be just over £18bn.

But size isn't everything. The patent protections for some of the group's major drugs are just months away from being lifted - all eyes are on the pipeline of new drugs.

At the cutting edge of the new economy, there should be interesting results from Logica. Romance is clearly not dead. The fact that on Valentine's Day last week, more than 11 million amorous text messages were sent will be welcome news for Logica, whose software makes that possible. In a business update near the end of last year, Logica suggested trading was in line with market expectations. This rather flew in the face of the dire profit warnings of Sema, which is, of course, in a similar line of business.

Comments