The Week Ahead: Bored with shopping? Tune in to Santander's legal drama

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Bored of retail and the seemingly endless stream of festive updates? Then worry no more. This week, some of the market's biggest sectors will finally knock the high street off the business pages - while a fraud case against the boss of Spanish bank Santander Central Hispano kicks off on Wednesday.

Bored of retail and the seemingly endless stream of festive updates? Then worry no more. This week, some of the market's biggest sectors will finally knock the high street off the business pages - while a fraud case against the boss of Spanish bank Santander Central Hispano kicks off on Wednesday.

The case against Emilio Botin has been brought by a shareholder, Rafael Perez Escolar, over the chairman's approval of £114m in retirement and bonus payments to two former executives, who are also being tried on the same charges. It was due to start tomorrow but has been delayed over claims that a presiding judge may be biased.

It is one of 26 lawsuits, many of them initiated by Mr Escolar, against the chairman, his chief executive, Alfredo Saenz, and the bank, which snapped up Abbey National last year. Seven of the suits have already been dismissed and Spain's State Prosecutor and Attorney General have both attempted to have the latest claim against Mr Botin dismissed. Mr Saenz is due to face trial later this year.

Back home, and as well as pharmaceuticals, which is represented by full-year results from AstraZeneca, the corporate calendar is dominated by the financial sector.

Although the UK housing market is slowing, most still view Northern Rock, which kicks off the bank's full-year earnings season, as a solid stock. Around 72 per cent of its pre-tax profits come from the mortgage market. But, as recent research by ABN Amro noted: "We believe Northern Rock can continue to deliver strong earnings growth even in the face of a slowing market, given its considerable cost advantage that affords more aggressive participation in the market."

Analysts are looking for final pre-tax profits of £429m, up from last year's £387m, although margins will still come under close scrutiny.

Sticking with the financial sector, and insurers Prudential and Aviva post new business figures. Both are expected to show an improvement in UK sales, while investors will want to hear from Prudential about how new distribution arrangements are faring in the UK.

Another heavyweight addressing the market is Vodafone. The mobile phone operator will be unveiling key performance indicators (KPIs), crucial pointers to how it is doing. Most in the City are looking for solid subscriber growth, with around 4.4 million net additions. Solid service revenue growth is also expected in various markets, including Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain, although the UK is likely to have slowed.

Smaller rival mmO 2 publishes third-quarter KPIs, and a robust update is predicted. Competition in the UK and Germany remains stiff for the former BT business, but voice and data revenues should continue to record strong growth.

Over at Cable & Wireless, the message is likely to be mixed. Enterprise and business markets in the UK remain tough, and investors will seek assurance about margins when the telecoms group updates on trading on Thursday. There will also be a focus on its Bulldog broadband offering, a part of the business seen as key to future performance.

Elsewhere, and drinks giant Allied Domecq updates on trading at its AGM. News is expected to focus on a strong showing in the US, where volumes and pricing remain resilient for spirits brands such as Malibu rum and Beefeater gin.

Wine has been in the news of late, with some speculation pointing to Allied Domecq, owner of Mumm champagne and the New Zealand brand Montana, as a potential buyer of Southcorp, the ailing Australian wine company. However, most industry experts believe the company will go to domestic rival Foster's, with the likes of Allied Domecq - which does not own an Australian wine business - looking to pick up individual brands.

Overseas, and the States continues its current busy run of quarterly results announcements. This week sees Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, drugs giants Merck, Schering-Plough and Eli Lilly, oil business ChevronTexaco, Starbucks and controversial services giant Halliburton issue figures, among others.

A number of big names are also stepping up in mainland Europe, including Nokia and Siemens, the Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz and German sports specialist Adidas-Salomon. There will also be full-year sales from French cosmetics giant L'Oréal.

Back home, and economic news will be centred around the first estimates of GDP for the fourth quarter. Hopes were for a firm rebound from the third quarter's below-trend 0.5 per cent increase. But worsening conditions in the manufacturing sector have put paid to all but the most optimistic forecasts. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 24

UK: Results: (final) Beale; (interim) Amino Technologies, ITM Power

Tuesday 25

UK: Results: (F) Jelf, ML Laboratories, Porvair; (I) Games Workshop, NCC Group; (third quarter) Alterian

Wednesday 26

UK Results: (F) ARM Holdings, Crest Nicholson, Northern Rock, Terrace Hill Group; (I) Renishaw, Stanley Leisure

Thursday 27

UK: Results: (F) AstraZeneca, Image Scan Holdings, Sanctuary Group, Scotty Group; (I) Eurodis Electron, Homestyle, Misys, Osmetech

Friday 28

UK: Results: (I) PKL Holdings, Whittard of Chelsea; (Q3) BAA, Vedanta Resources

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