The Week Ahead: Cholesterol drug puts AstraZeneca in rude health

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It is going to be anything other than a quiet summer week as 22 FTSE-100 companies report first half results. Shares in pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca have been among the best performing in the blue chip index over the last six months, adding more than 22 per cent to close at 3,250p on Friday.

Newsflow has been strong in the last three months, particularly over anti-cholesterol drug Crestor, and the market has been full of takeover rumours. Broker Dresdner Kleinwort expects the company to beat consensus earnings estimates of $0.94 per share for the second quarter, giving quarter-on-quarter growth of 28 per cent.

AstraZeneca has an impressive range of blockbusters, including stomach ulcer treatment Nexium and anti-psychotic drug Seroquel. However, Crestor, which is benefiting from test results that indicate it is effective in unblocking clogged arteries. Consensus forecasts are for $433m in Crestor sales, but that could easily be beaten in the back of such positive newsflow. Even if a bid for the company is a long shot, given its £50bn current value, AstraZeneca should confirm that it is in rude health.

TODAY: Broker Merrill Lynch expects oil and gas group BG to report a 22 per cent rise in adjusted net income to £335m and a 58 per cent jump in pre-tax earnings to £776m, slightly ahead of the consensus forecast of £775m. Not surprisingly there has been a bit of bid speculation but it would be a major acquisition for any of its peers.

Reckitt Benckiser recently lost out on the auction for Pfizer's over-the-counter business, and for most analysts that was no bad thing. Expect a robust statement alongside first half pre-tax profits of £500m, which will include three full months of the Boots business for the first time.

Shareholders of Aim-listed online gambling group World Gaming will be bracing themselves for bad news after the industry was thrown into chaos by the arrest of BetonSports chief executive David Carruthers last week. Even if the results show stellar growth, a distinct possibility, the accompanying statement is likely to be very cautious.

Results: Full year - Angle; BBI Holdings; IG Group Holdings. First half - BG Group; Reckitt Benckiser; World Gaming.

TOMORROW: A pre-close trading statement from United Business Media in late June confirmed that trading is tough in print media. However, the PR Newswire, events and online operations should continue to show strong growth. The company is a transitional phase, and intends to return £300m of capital to shareholders by the end of 2007. Broker Numis Securities expects to see £76.3m of pre-tax profits on revenues of £357m for the first half. BP will need to reassure investors that its run of bad luck in North America is coming to an end. Speculation about a successor to current chief executive Lord Browne of Maddingly is rife, but with the company's problems mounting retirement may be the last thing on his mind. Consensus forecasts are for $5.98bn of pre-tax profits for the second quarter.

Results: First half - ARM Holdings; BP; Domino's Pizza; IBS OPENSystems; St James's Place Capital; United Business Media; Yell Group.

WEDNESDAY: Reuters, the news and information agency, reports half-year numbers and shareholders will be hoping for improvement on full year results, which resulted in an 80p per share fall in February. Numis believes there is a 50/50 chance that the group will upgrade revenue forecasts and expects pre-tax profits of £138m, on revenues of £1.3bn.

The market is expecting strong results from three technology groups, Autonomy, CSR and Wolfson Microelectronics. The former told the market that results will be ahead of forecasts in an upbeat pre-close statement.

Results: Full year -PKL Holdings. First half - Autonomy Corporation; Croda International; CSR; GlaxoSmithKline; HBOS; Northern Rock; Reuters Group; Wolfson Microelectronics; Zetex.

THURSDAY: Shell is expected to report slightly better numbers than its arch rival, BP. Consensus forecasts are for $6.1bn of pre-tax profits. Expect the usual public outcry about profits.

Results from IT group Misys are likely to be overlooked as shareholders will be more interested to learn more about discussions regarding a possible offer for the group, one of which is backed by senior management.

Results: Full year - Misys. First half - AstraZeneca; British American Tobacco; Centrica; Fujin Technology; Legal & General; Rathbone Brothers; Reed Elsevier; Royal Dutch Shell; Smith & Nephew. First quarter - BT Group.

FRIDAY: Results: First half - Exel; Flying Brands; Liberty International; Prudential; Rolls Royce Group; Shire.

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