The Week Ahead: Compass aims to find new direction out of crises

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The Independent Online

Compass has been spinning out of control, it seems, so results from the caterer this week will be scoured for any sign - any hope at all - of an end to its string of crises.

With the company having agreed to part company with its chief executive, Mike Bailey, and with its chairman, Sir Francis Mackay, also set to leave next year, the City is frustrated that the company is now in the hands of two lame ducks. Investors will be especially keen to hear of progress on Mr Bailey's replacement.

Sir Roy Gardner has been signed up to replace Sir Francis but is not likely to be released from his current job as chief executive of Centrica for several months. Any news that he may arrive sooner would also be welcomed.

Compass issued its third profits warning in a year last time out, so financial expectations are low. Since then, the company has fired three executives over alleged corrupt contract negotiations at the United Nations. And over the weekend, it was forced to deny claims from suppliers that it routinely bugged negotiating rooms to find out the lowest prices they may accept.

TODAY: BSS Group, the building materials distributor, may provide a useful insight into the state of the housing market - and the prospects of its customers, the housebuilders. Expect Homeserve, the emergency home services provider, to be upbeat about the cold weather, which can only be good for its business.

Results: Full year - Cambridge Antibody, Dawson. Interims - BSS Group, Homeserve, Detica, Domestic & General, Torotrak.

TOMORROW: As well as the Compass circus, Tuesday sees the first of the big banks' autumn trading statements, as Barclays updates the market. Investors will be particularly eager to hear how bad debt levels have been developing in recent weeks. Although Barclays reported an encouraging 9 per cent jump in first-half profits this summer, growth and consumer spending have continued to slow since. Has the deteriorating economic climate started to bite yet? Nationwide's monthly house price index is also out tomorrow, giving a good indication of the current state of the mortgage market.

Results: Full year - Compass, Topps Tiles, Cardpoint, Future. Interims - Asos, Genus, Kingston Communications. Trading update - Barclays.

WEDNESDAY: A string of FTSE 100 companies will be updating investors. Daily Mail & General will provide the City with the latest insights into the weakening UK advertising market, and will face difficult questions about the continuing decline in circulation at the Evening Standard. Kingfisher is expected to release more gloomy news about the state of the retail market, as it updates investors on trading prospects at B&Q. And the City will be looking to Mitchells & Butler for some predictions on how the new licensing laws are affecting its business, and what prospects for the pubs market are looking like for 2006.

On AIM, the gaming company Sportingbet will provide the entertainment on Wednesday. Last month, it announced it had increased its annual profits five-fold over the past year, as online gamers continued to sign up to its sites in their droves. Has it maintained the momentum?

Results: Full year - Arla Foods, Daily Mail, De Vere, Mitchells & Butler, Sage. Jessops, Richmond Foods. Interims - London Merchant Securities, Kelda Group, IFX Group, RPC. Trading updates - Corus, Kingfisher, Sportingbet.

THURSDAY: The European Central Bank will be the main focus of attention, with economists anticipating the first eurozone interest rate rise for almost two and a half years. If it goes ahead as predicted, rates will move from 2 to 2.25 per cent, and opinion remains divided on the effects this may have. While the eurozone economy is slightly more robust than the UK at the moment, some are concerned that it is still too fragile to sustain a rate rise.

Back in the UK, the City's focus will be on HSBC's trading update - and, in particular, its thoughts about the UK retail banking market, which it has previously raised concerns about.

Results: Full year - Avon Rubber, Holidaybreak. Interims - AWG, Caledonia Investments, De La Rue, Findel, FKI, United Utilities, e2v, Oasis Healthcare, Plasmon, VP, Wagon, Xansa. Trading updates - HSBC, MFI.

FRIDAY: Having already delivered a fairly comprehensive trading statement in September, United Utilities is not expected to produce many surprises when it reports its interim results. A decision on whether or not to exit the telecoms sector - where it has struggled to make an impact - would be a welcome development. Alliance & Leicester will also give more insight into the UK consumer lending market when it updates the market on Friday.

Results: Full year - Wolverhampton & Dudley. Trading update - Alliance & Leicester.

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