The Week Ahead: Diageo emerging at last from a long hangover

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The Independent Online

It has taken a long time for Diageo to wake up and start performing. The company, formed by the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997, has consistently failed to live up to the hype, despite posting solid earnings growth over the last nine years. From a technical point of view, the shares have broken out of their long-term trading range and brokers believe that the risk is now to the upside.

Tuesday's trading update and annual meeting ought to give investors more encouragement, with good growth expected from its emerging markets division and in North America. Europe, currently the worst-performing region, might even show some signs of recovery. But what is exciting analysts most is the growth opportunity in China, where the rapidly expanding middle class represents a huge opportunity for Diageo's brands. The big problem in China is advertising - due to a highly fragmented market it is expensive and a geographical challenge. However, if Diageo can crack China the years of underperformance will soon be forgotten.

TODAY: Professional training company Carter & Carter has been one of the stock market's big success stories in the last couple of years. Since listing at 235p in February 2005 the company has made a number of acquisitions, including a £25.5m deal to buy Retail Motor Industry Training in May, while the shares have soared to more than 700p. Broker ABN Amro is forecasting £92.9m in 2006 revenues, an 82 per cent increase on 2005, leading to pre-tax profits of £8.75m.

EMI, the music publishing group, is still struggling to recover after ditching a merger plan with Warner Music in August. The plans were shelved after the European Union annulled the 2004 regulatory clearance of the Sony tie-up with BMG, making more consolidation in the music industry a long shot. Today's trading update might not make very bullish reading - the company's main acts, including Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Gorillaz have had a quiet quarter, although new acts such as Corinne Bailey Rae have exceeded expectations.

Results: Full year - Antisoma; Carter & Carter. First half - Alexon.

TOMORROW: iSoft, the troubled information technology group, holds what could be one of the most fiery annual general meetings of the year. Even though Accenture has dropped out of the two NHS contracts it was running, meaning possible legal action against iSoft looks less likely, the future of the company is far from secure.

Shares in Bellway, the Newcastle-based house builder, currently stand at an all-time high and with more consolidation in the sector widely anticipated, there seems to be little sign of a slump. With a market capitalisation of more than £1.5bn the company is expected to play a major role in any merger and acquisition action. Brokers are looking for pre-tax profits of £216m-£225m, flat in comparison to the £218.2m the company made inn 2005, but the figures will not include any sales from the summer.

Results: Full year - Bellway; Cheerful Scout; Clinton Cards; Mouchel Parkman;

WEDNESDAY: The broker JP Morgan is expecting a strong third quarter performance from Reuters, the information and news service, as it gives the market a pre-close trading update. The shares have been a major disappointment over the last three years, underperforming the wider market by a significant margin.

Brokers are very downbeat on retailer JJB Sports, with five out of seven brokers covering the stock recommending "reduce" or "sell". The broker UBS, which rates the stock at "neutral", is looking for £16m in first half pre-tax profits, and says that heavy discounting during the World Cup and rebasing of prices will hit profits.

Results: Full year - Biofusion; Manganese Bronze. First half - European Motor Holdings; JJB Sports

THURSDAY: Sportingbet sold its US operations for a dollar last week - seeing as George Bush ratified anti-gaming gaming legislation last week that might turn out to be a decent bit of business for Sportingbet, saving the company millions of dollars in closure costs. Like the rest of the online gambling sector, shares in the company have taken a hammering in recent sessions, and even a Democrat landslide in November's Senate and Congress elections is unlikely to change matters. That said, there is a huge amount of bad news in the price so investors will be looking for better things on the company's non-American business.

Results: First half - RDF Media. Third quarter - Colt Telecom. Full year: Sportingbet

FRIDAY: Results: None due.

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