The Week Ahead: All eyes on AstraZeneca's new drugs pipeline

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The Independent Online

With the shares touching an all-time high, investors in AstraZeneca will be wondering whether it is time to cash in their chips or hold on. Thanks to the success of Crestor, an anti-cholesterol drug, and ulcer treatment Nexium, the company has outperformed its main UK rival, GlaxoSmithKline, by a wide margin.

The current jewel in the crown is Crestor, which is expected to post a 60 per cent increase in sales to $520m (£276m) and has plenty of life left in it before it goes off patent. Good support should also come from breast cancer treatment Arimidex and asthma drug Symbicort.

However, given the share price performance many analysts believe that the stock is fully valued, that generic competition for Toprol XL will dent sales and that there will be generic competition for Nexium in 2008. With much of the good news already in, the price investors will be looking for a little extra from the company's new drugs. Citigroup is looking for total third quarter group sales of $6.4bn, up 8 per cent, leading to a 36 per cent jump in earnings per share.

TODAY: Results: Full year - Tristel.

TOMORROW: The retail sector has been tough and the hot autumn weather has meant that sales of winter collections are going at a snail's pace. Debenhams, the department store group that floated in May, is trading 11 per cent worse than its 195p float price and there are few investors willing to believe that the company is going to surprise on the upside. Private equity backers Texas Pacific, CVC and Merrill Lynch still own 43 per cent of the shares. September's pre-close trading statement confirmed that the company expects results to be in line with expectations, with consensus forecasts looking for £165m of pre-tax profits on sales of £2.2bn.

BP has hardly been out of the headlines in the last year, rarely for the right reasons. It has been an annus horribilis for the company, with refinery explosions, leaking pipes in Alaska, production shutdowns and lawsuits. Even so, with oil prices still more than $60 per barrel, the company should be making money hand over fist and analysts at investment bank Lehman Brothers expect BP to reveal third quarter earnings of $4.7bn.

AIM-listed Debts.co.uk announces maiden final results and, with the shares trading lower than the May listing price, investors will be hoping for some bullish news. The Chesterfield-based group, which administers Individual Voluntary Arrangements, made its first acquisition in October and is expected to report an 84 per cent jump in revenue and pre-tax profits of just over £2m, according to broker Seymour Pierce.

Results: Full year - Debenhams; Debts.co.uk. First half - Whitbread. Third quarter - Autonomy Corporation; BP; Reckitt Benckiser.

WEDNESDAY: Results: Full year - No results due.

THURSDAY: In comparison to BP, the problems of Shell seem like a walk in the park. The company has been linked with bids for a handful of smaller players and is thought to be looking at BG Group and Premier Oil. Consensus forecasts are for flat quarterly earnings of $5.7bn, but the share buyback programme means that per share earnings should rise by about 10 per cent.

Robust global stock markets and a bout of bid speculation have boosted shares in fund management group Amvescap to a three-and-a-half-year high. Deutsche Bank expects the company to report a 77 per cent rise in operating profit to $204m, with net fund inflows of $1.lbn.

The word in the market is that GlaxoSmithKline is likely to beat forecasts and report good results. The shares have lagged behind the sector over the past three years but most analysts believe that the worst problems are resolved. Sales growth should be in the 6 to 8 per cent range, although investors will want reassurance that the gains are not all down to price increases in the US market.

Blacks Leisure, the UK's largest retailer of outdoor clothing and camping equipment, had a grim summer culminating in back-to-back profit warnings. Since then, some bid speculation has helped the shares but with few catalysts to boost sales investors should be braced for more bad news.

Results: First half - Blacks Leisure. Third quarter - Amvescap; AstraZeneca; British American Tobacco; Shell; GlaxoSmithKline.

FRIDAY: Good news on a couple of new drugs has driven Shire Pharmaceuticals' share price to new highs. Hyperactivity drug NRP104 gained conditional approval from the FDA two weeks ago and Elaprase, a treatment for people suffering from Hunter's syndrome, a rare but fatal genetic condition, has received positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency. Consensus analyst forecasts are for $90m of pre-tax profit, not including exceptionals, based on revenue of $428m.

Results: Third quarter - Shire Pharmaceuticals.

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