The Week Ahead: Britvic will need to quench fears of sales decline

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The Independent Online

With the end of the tax year in sight and the March reporting season now over, it is going to be a relatively quiet week for company announcements. However, there will be plenty of nervous shareholders tomorrow as Britvic updates the market on current trading.

The soft drinks company floated in December at 230p, only to warn on profits in February as Britvic said post-Christmas sales of fizzy drinks had plummeted almost 10 per cent. Perhaps it is fair to expect a new year health kick, but some analysts feel sales of high sugar content carbonated drinks are in terminal decline.

The chief executive Paul Moody will need to report some improvement or irate shareholders, angry at a warning coming so soon after the company was floated, may call for him to resign. The previous owners InterContinental Hotels, Allied Domecq and Whitbread, were conspicuous by their silence in February, and Britvic shares have recovered some of their value, trading at 219p on Friday. Analysts have pencilled in pre-tax profits for the full year of £40.5m, but more bad news will lead to further downgrades and more pressure on its shares.

TODAY: Egdon Resources has performed wonders since coming to AIM from Ofex in December 2004, hitting a low of a little more than 26p before rocketing to trade at 144.5p on Friday.

Today's numbers are the side issue for the gas exploration and production minnow, which is attempting to develop salt caves in Dorset for gas storage.

What analysts are looking for is positive news on the bore drilling, expected to be complete by the end of the month with planning permission coming later in the year. If the news is bad, its stock could retreat to about40p, but if the news is good its stock could fly even higher.

Scottish Power recently sold a similar project with planning permission to the German utility E.ON for £93m - Egdon's project is about six times larger and the company has a market capitalisation of just £83m.

Results: Full year - Headlam Group; Integrated Asset Management; Phoqus Group; Whatman. First half - Egdon Resources.

TOMORROW: The private-equity group Kohlberg Kravis Roberts will want to forget Alea. The buyout giants own a 40 per cent stake in the Bermuda-based insurance company, which has been indecline since listing in London in 2003 at a little more than 260p a share. Its stock now languishes at 69.5p after a string of profits warnings, ratings downgrades and resignations.

KKR invested in Alea as part of its 1996 fund, so will need to sell out soon - but the company will need to report blockbuster figures if the exit is to be anything other than painful. With analysts expecting losses of about £23.5m, more bad news would not surprise anyone.

The house builder Bellway is the largest company to report this week, and analysts expect good numbers from the Newcastle-based company. There is very little deviation among analysts with consensus forecasts of £219m in pre-tax profits for 2005.

The sector is full of takeover chatter and Bellway, with a market capitalisation of £1.4bn, could lead the next wave of consolidation.

Watch our for numbers from Empire Online, the internet gambling company. Recent results from its rival 888 Holdings were well ahead of market forecasts, and if Empire does not follow suit its stock could take a beating.

Results: Full year - Alea Group; Bloomsbury Publishing; Cellcast; Empire Online; FDM Group; Havelock Europa; MSB International; Plethora Solutions; Resolution. First half - Bellway.

WEDNESDAY: Results: Full year - Boot (Henry); Cyprotex; Signet Group. First half - Manganese Bronze Holdings.

THURSDAY: Technology investors will be keeping an eye on a first-half trading statement from Innovation Group, the software and outsourcing solutions provider to the insurance industry. Jonathan Imlah, an analyst at Altium Securities, has it as his "buy of the year", despite the company being a long way from the dizzy heights of 924p-a-share, which it hit at the peak of the dot.com boom.

The company warned on profits in September, but Mr Imlah believes its latest trading statement will be upbeat as the company has already met his expectations for the first half of the year.

Air Partner, the private-jet charter company, is unlikely to unveil any nasty shocks with its first-half numbers, having told the market in early February that trading was in line with expectations. However, fuel costs are punishingthe general airline industry, and bookings will have to remain strong if the company is not to disappoint.

Results: Full year - Chelford Group; VI Group. First half - Air Partner; Charteris.

FRIDAY: Results: Full year - Pavilion Insurance.

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