The Week Ahead: Big names hope to play cards right as online gamers reel

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Some of the world's best-known companies unveil their third-quarter earnings in the US this week, with investors hoping positive results will drive the Dow Jones further into record territory. The index surged 1 per cent to a new high of 11,960.51 last week, after better-than-expected earnings from groups such as McDonald's and Yum! Brands, which owns the Pizza Hut and KFC franchises.

In the spotlight this week are Coca-Cola, consumer goods group Johnson & Johnson and telecoms giant Motorola, while investors will be keen for an insight into Google's strategy, after its $1.65bn (£887m) YouTube acquisition, when it delivers third-quarter results.

Fellow internet heavyweights Yahoo! and eBay will also hand down figures. They will be joined by hardware colleagues IBM, Apple and Intel.

Investors will be hoping the earth moves for mining-machinery group Caterpillar, one of America's best-performing stocks this year. Other big names to provide clarity on the health of the world's largest economy include Pfizer, Merck, Mattel, Bank of America and 3M.

Away from the US, consumer spending and cost pressures will be assessed when a string of electronic companies deliver third-quarter results. They include Japan's Canon Electronics, Swedish mobile phone maker Ericsson, Finland's Nokia and Philips of the Netherlands.

Back in the UK, Sportingbet presents annual results in the wake of the forced sale last week of its US operations for one dollar, after Congress passed anti-gaming legislation. PartyGaming will also be looking to reassure investors when it provides an update.

It's also crunch time for Royal Dutch Shell, which has until Friday to respond to proposals from the Russian government for fixing perceived environmental and safety problems at its $20bn (£10.7bn) Sakhalin 2 project.

Staying with resources, mining group Rio Tinto provides a trading update, giving investors an insight into whether global demand for commodities is still red hot.

Likely to be fired up at an annual meeting are investors in iSoft. Shares in the software group traded at over 400p a year ago but are currently languishing around 50p after criticism of the late roll-out of its Lorenzo system to companies involved in the £6.2bn overhaul of the NHS's IT infrastructure.

Another big general meeting takes place at drinks giant Diageo. The owner of Smirnoff Vodka and Guinness will also provide a trading update and is likely to discuss growth in Asia after saying last week that China was likely to surpass Japan as the world's second-largest spirits market by value. The US ranks number one.

Looking to kick goals will be sporting retailer JJB Sports, but analysts at UBS Investment Research think increased costs will take its first-half profit £3m lower than the £18m it posted in the previous corresponding period.

Elsewhere on the high street, fashion retailer Alexon delivers first-half results. Investors will be watching for an update on the sale of the Dolcis shoe stores, as well as signs of improved trading after the group shut its 17-store Mandolin chain.

Meanwhile, maternity retailer Mothercare provides a trading update.

A booming property market in Britain is expected to drive a solid set of numbers for homebuilder Bellway when it hands down its full-year results, while media companies will also be taking the spotlight in the shape of Reuters, TV company RDF and video production group Cheerful Scout.

Meanwhile, Mouchel Parkman, the company managing the £100m improvement project for the M42 motorway, releases its full-year results. Investors will be interested in a trial on the M42, which kicked off last month and allows motorists to use the hard shoulder during peak traffic periods.

From traffic management to taxi manufacturing and Manganese Bronze, which earlier this month struck a £53m alliance with Zhejiang Geely to produce its black taxi in China, reports full-year results.

It's a big week for economic news with the release of inflation data in the UK and the US. The markets have recently been buoyed by speculation that lower oil prices will dampen inflation and keep a lid on interest rates around the globe.


Tomorrow 16

UK RESULTS: (second quarter) Narrowstep.

Tuesday 17

UK RESULTS: (final) Bellway, Cheerful Scout, Mouchel Parkman, Next Fifteen Communication.

Wednesday 18

UK RESULTS: (F) Manganese Bronze; (interim) European Motor, JJB Sports.

Thursday 19

UK RESULTS: (F) Sportingbet; (3Q) Colt Telecom; (I) RDF Media.

Friday 20

UK RESULTS: none scheduled.