The Week Ahead: Imperial hopes to be quicker on the draw than rival BAT

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The Independent Online

The City may get an extra hour in bed this weekend after the clocks wind back, but it will still be left dreading the dark afternoons, with a barrage of big companies reporting and hosting annual meetings.

Investors in the world's fourth-biggest cigarette company, Imperial Tobacco, will be hoping it can deliver a better performance than rival British American Tobacco, which reported its slowest quarterly profit growth to date last week. Barclays analyst David Liston said he expected Imperial, which markets Britain's top-selling brand Lambert & Butler, to provide guidance on planned share repurchases for 2006-07, anticipated by the market to be about £600m.

The performance of big-brand names will remain in focus, with Unilever, which owns Rexona, Lipton tea and Birds Eye, posting third-quarter results. Mr Liston said that while he expected sales growth to be maintained at between 3 to 5 per cent, he predicted falling margins would disappoint investors.

Meanwhile, the big brand of the sky, British Airways, will report its second-quarter figures. Barclays analyst Peter Caldwell expects the security measures at Heathrow, which cost the airline £40m in September, to continue to affect the group and said investors would be looking for any increase in passenger numbers in the premium segment.

From the skies to the high street and Matalan, which agreed to a £817m takeover from founder and chairman John Hargreaves a fortnight ago, will deliver its last set of interim results before returning to private status. Staying in the retail and leisure market, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels hands down third-quarter results, while pub group JD Wetherspoon delivers a trading update, providing investors with an insight into current market conditions in the lead-up to the festive season.

It will be interesting viewing at BSkyB's annual general meeting, with Pirc urging shareholders to oppose the re-election of the company's chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Pirc has also recommended shareholders vote against BSkyB's remuneration report because it does not disclose performance targets.

Also likely to be closely watched is Carphone Warehouse, which is due to deliver interim results following a roller-coaster ride for investors earlier this month. The mobile phone retailer revealed plans to buy AOL UK from Time Warner but lost the rights to sell Vodafone contracts after the carrier decided to switch providers to Phones 4U.

From mobile phone retailer to mobile phone microprocessing group ARM Holdings, which reports its third-quarter results.

Investors in the company behind Mr Kipling cakes, RHM, will be hoping for a more palatable outlook when it provides a trading update. Shares in the group, which also manufactures Bisto gravy, have been under pressure since September when it revealed that the hot summer had hit sales.

From sweet treats to sweeteners and the maker of Splenda, Tate & Lyle, which last week revealed it was selling its European starch business, reports its half-year results. Investors are likely to get further information on the proposed sale, which was expected to fetch the group as much as £600m.

While sale plans boosted Tate & Lyle's share price last week, merger speculation lifted the performance of medical group Smith & Nephew, which reports its third-quarter result on Thursday. Investors, who have suffered a number of profit warnings in the past two years, will be keen to hear that its full-year guidance is on track and will hope for clarification after recent speculation that the company is poised to merge with US medical devices firm Biomet.

Meanwhile, German-based Linde will hand down its first financial report since acquiring UK rival BOC.

While it has been a volatile few months for the share price of oil company BG Group, Charles Stanley analyst Tony Shepherd is expecting a solid third-quarter result, with a forecast income estimate of £350m, compared with £308m for the same period last year.

Hoping to wipe away a tough couple of months is the world's biggest maker of car windscreen wipers, Tomkins, which was forced to issue a profits warning in September due to sluggish sales in the US. The group also rejected a takeover bid from a company linked to its chief executive Greg Hutchings this month. Deutsche Bank has slashed its price target on the group by 13 per cent to 240p, saying the company faces a poor outlook.

Meanwhile, Charles Stanley analyst Jeremy Batsone said Imperial Chemical Industries investors would look for growth in Asia and the UK to offset the weakness in the US market following a slump in the housing sector. He added that investors would focus on what the company was doing to address its pension fund deficit, which was in excess of 20 per cent of its stock market capitalisation.

Providing an overview about the health of the US economy will be a range of third-quarter reports from companies such asHilton Hotels, Procter & Gamble, Guess?, and Time Warner, while Burger King hands down its first quarter results.

CALENDAR

Monday 30

UK RESULTS: (final) Connaught, Lok'nStore; (interim) Chloride

Tuesday 31

UK RESULTS: (F) Egdon Resources, Imperial Tobacco, Starvest; (I) Alterian, Matalan, Umeco; (Q3) ARM Holdings, Tomkins

Wednesday 1

UK RESULTS: (F) Chrysalis; (I) ITIS

Thursday 2

UK RESULTS: (I) Carphone Warehouse, Tate & Lyle; (Q3) BG Group, ICI, Mapeley, Randgold, Smith & Nephew, Unilever

Friday 3

UK RESULTS: (Q1) BSkyB; (Q2) British Airways; (Q3) Millennium & Copthorne

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