The Week Ahead: City hungry for news of HSBC's acquisition plans

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The Independent Online

The last of the banks reports today and it's the big one - HSBC. The world's second-largest bank by market capitalisation is bound to create another round of media furore over its profits, which analysts expect to come in at a staggering $20.5bn (£11.7bn).

Most investors will ignore the numbers, assuming that they come in at or about consensus forecasts, and will instead be seeking guidance on the outlook for 2006 plus more news on the bank's acquisition strategy.

The banking sector has been alive with bid rumours, and HSBC watchers will be looking for any hints that the company is ready to go on the consolidation trail.

Excellent results and a 25 per cent dividend rise from Royal Bank of Scotland last week set the benchmark, so expect HSBC to follow suit and announce developments in its capital-management scheme. There will be uproar over how much money the bank has made, but don't expect analysts or shareholders to join in.

TODAY: Close Brothers is a rare beast - an independent UK merchant bank. Winterfloods, its market-making arm, continues to dominate trade among smaller-cap stocks and will have benefited from the surge in AIM listings over the past 12 months. The broker Altium Securities is looking for interim pre-tax profits of £72.3m, but thinks the good news is already in the price and recommends selling the shares.

The car distributor Inchcape, which has warned the market that second-half numbers will not live up to the first half, should report numbers in line with estimates. There is almost no deviation between analyst forecasts, so if pre-tax profits do not come in at £190m there could be significant movement either way in the shares.

Watch out for numbers from Taylor Nelson Sofres. The market research group has recently been the subject of vague bid speculation, partly because of a private-equity-backed bid for its giant Dutch rival VNU. Recent bumper results from WPP Group have also put pressure on the company to deliver, and analysts anticipate pre-tax profits of about £260m.

Results: Full year - Ant; Concurrent Technology; Goals Soccer Centres; HSBC Holdings; Huveaux; IMI; Inchcape; Inion; Intertek Group; John Wood Group; Just Car Clinics; Keller Group; Management Consulting; Taylor Nelson Sofres; Vitec; WSP Group. First half - Close Brothers; Renewable Energy; Teesland.

TOMORROW: The insurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson has had a tough year. Recent bullish noises about the insurance market from Numis Securities and an upgrade by Merrill Lynch have helped its stock, which was hammered by US hurricane-related claims last year, but Goldman Sachs initiated coverage with an "underperform" rating last week, saying growth prospects are factored into the share price. Analysts expect £82m of pre-tax profits.

After solid full-year numbers from Persimmon last week, investors can expect more of the same from Redrow despite a lacklustre December update.

Results: Full year - Admiral; Aegis; Axon; Brammer; Corporate Services; Jardine Lloyd Thompson; Meggit; Premier Foods; Spectris. First half - DX Services; ICM Computer; Interior Service; Redrow.

WEDNESDAY: Good news is on the way for ITV's longsuffering shareholders. Alongside a 25 per cent jump in annual profits to £423m, Charles Allan, the broadcaster's chief executive, is expected to unveil a £300m share buyback. The ITV boss will be hoping that his announcement sparks some life into the group's shares. They have lost nearly a quarter of their value since the company was created two years ago from the merger of Carlton Communications and Granada. Persistent falls in advertising revenues at ITV1 have been largely to blame and these are unlikely to have abated. The first quarter of this year is forecasts to have seen a 15 per cent drop on the same period of last year.

Results: Full year - First Dental Laboratories; Access Intelligence; Amphion Innovation; Axis-Shield; Balfour Beatty; Carillion; Drax; Intercytex; ITV; Johnston Press; Provident Financial; Rathbone Bros; Restaurant Group; Savills; Stilo International; Travis Perkins. First half - A&J Mucklow.

THURSDAY: The emergency power supplier Aggreko has already had a good year; most analysts have upped their forecasts twice on the back of an extremely hot US summer followed by a heavy hurricane season. Consensus forecasts are for pre-tax profits of £54.9m.

Results: Full year - Acambis; Aggreko; Ark Therapeutics; Catlin; Chime Communications; Cobham; Ideal Shopping; Inmarsat; John Lewis Partnership; National Express; SIG; Umbro.

FRIDAY: Results: Full year - 4imprint Group; Amlin; Centaur; CLS; Flying Brands; Gibbs & Dandy; Greggs; Marshalls.

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