The Week Ahead: Carphone struggles with broadband demand

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The Independent Online

It has now been a month since Charles Dunstone put the cat among the pigeons by offering a "free" broadband service to anyone willing to sign up to Carphone Warehouse's "TalkTalk" service. Since then, anecdotal evidence suggests that it has not all been plain sailing, with potential customers reporting technical difficulties in signing up and insufficient numbers of trained staff unable to cope with demand.

That in itself is perhaps not a bad sign, and Carphone Warehouse clearly has some first mover advantage. However, competition for home broadband delivery is likely to get very hot. BSkyB is poised to enter the market this year, France Telecom's Orange announced its own offering last Thursday and BT Group is continuing to perform better than most industry observers expected.

Consensus forecasts from analysts suggest Carphone Warehouse will report pre-tax profits in the region of £135m after recent guidance issued by the company. However, the real news is going to be how the free broadband offering is progressing. The broker Williams de Broë believes there could be some nasty shocks for investors and has a "sell" recommendation on the shares. It points to slowing retail sales and heavy reliance on BT Group unbundling of the local loop.

TODAY: Providing high-end information technology to the US government, among others, may not put consultancy group Detica high on many ethical investors' buy lists, but that has not stopped the company's share price from going through the roof in the past three-and-a-half years. Consensus forecasts are for pre-tax profits of £10.9m, putting the shares on a racy 35.8 times forward earnings. The company will need to avoid any shocks if it is to justify that sort of rating.

Results: Full year - Chloride Group; Detica Group; E2V Technologies; Glotel, Uniq. First half - Sumus.

TOMORROW: Telecom Plus has given its shareholders a roller-coaster ride over the past five years. The stock performed miracles during the market downturn, peaking at more than 400p per share in early 2004. Since then, there has been one piece of bad news after another and the shares now languish at less than 25 per cent of their highest value, during a period when the broader market has rallied strongly.

Some traders believe that the bad news is not over, and there are believed to be plenty of short sellers in the market. Analysts expect a pre-tax loss of a little less than £1m.

Expect to see good results from the property group Helical Bar, in line with the rest of the sector. Most of its larger rivals have already reported strong growth in net asset value, and most are preparing to convert to Real Estate Investment Trust status.

It would be a shock if Helical Bar did not follow suit on both counts, but having seen the conversion costs Slough Estates has estimated (£72m), some traders believe it may be uneconomical for smaller property stocks to convert.

Results: Full year - Carphone Warehouse; Christian Salvesen; Focus Solutions; Hampson Industries; Helical Bar; Intelek; Intermediate Capital; RPC Group; Severn Trent; Synergy Healthcare; Telecom Plus; Volex Group. First half - Dawson Holdings; Future; Victrex.

WEDNESDAY: Northumbrian Water follows closely on Severn Trent's heels, but the shares look to be up with events, having more than doubled in the last three years. The Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan, one of the world's biggest private equity investors, owns 25 per cent of the company, which has given investors hope that Northumbrian might become a bid target. But with the shares trading on an expensive forward multiple of 14.7 times prospective earnings, any bidder would be looking at a significant premium for a regulated utility business. Consensus forecasts are for pre-tax profits of £103m.

Results: Full year - Chapel-thorpe; Danka Business Solutions; GB Group; Genus; Northumbrian Water; Protherics. First half - Gooch & Housego; Theratese.

THURSDAY: Shares in the engineering group FKI have been boosted in recent sessions by rumours that management is poised to make an offer to take the company private. Long-term performance of the stock has been poor, but a recent trading statement confirmed that results would be in line with expectations. Analysts are looking for pre-tax profits of about £74.2m, but with £500m of long term debt already on the balance sheet a leveraged buyout looks like a long shot.

Results: Full year - FKI Group; Halfords Group; Indago Petroleum; Intechnology; Scapa Group; VP; Wagon; Whitehead Mann; Wincanton.

FRIDAY: Results: Full year - Fuller Smith & Turner; Internet Business; Signet Group.