The Week Ahead: ITV investors watching the ads market

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This will be a busy week for the media sector, with ITV leading the companies releasing results. A detailed picture of the state of media markets should emerge.

This will be a busy week for the media sector, with ITV leading the companies releasing results. A detailed picture of the state of media markets should emerge.

The other media groups reporting figures include Aegis, Taylor Nelson Sofres, T&F Informa, Chime Communications, Ulster TV, SMG and Incisive Media.

At ITV, which has full-year results on Wednesday, strong profit growth is expected but questions remain about how the company will drive the top line and address its poor audience ratings performance last year.

Some analysts fear ITV will announce it must spend more on programming to try to win back viewers. For the current year, investors also worry that, after a strong first quarter for television advertising, there will be a sharp slowdown in the second quarter. So clues on the current state of the ad market will be keenly watched for. With SMG, the owner of two ITV licences, and Ulster TV, which holds a further licence, reporting this week, a complete picture of the ITV market should emerge.

Charles Allen, ITV's chief executive, is likely to try to focus attention on the new digital channels, ITV2 and ITV3, and the possibility of an ITV4. He will also be pressed to quantify the beneficial impact of regulatory changes and update on cost savings. There is speculation of a rise in the dividend or a share buy-back programme. The City is expecting a 17 per cent jump in pre-tax profits to £290m.

TODAY: Building materials suppliers will be in focus as Aggregate Industries, IMI and Travis Perkins release results. At Travis, the recent acquisition of Wickes - which has made the company more consumer focused - will be a talking point. Analysts are looking for it to maintain profit margins, but the broker Williams de Bröe feels it will struggle to "push this much further". Pre-tax profit of £205m is forecast, up from £178m in 2003.

Results: Full year - Aggregate Industries, British Vita, Financial Objects, IMI, Incisive Media, Intertek, Keller Group, Marlborough Sterling, Taylor Nelson Sofres, Travis Perkins, Vitec.

TOMORROW: Recent bid speculation has caused a resurgence in the share price of French Connection. Sales at the retailer fell off a cliff in the autumn and the City is keen to know how the spring collection has gone down with its young shoppers. For the year to the end of January, profits are predicted to be down to £33m, from £39m previously, with like-for-like sales down 14 per cent in the UK stores. Nick Bubb, of Evolution Securities, says profits in the current year should bounce back to £40m, so it will be interesting to see how the company characterises its outlook. P&O's final results should provide further evidence of recovery at the ports and logistics group. The poorly performing ferries business is likely to continue to be a drag, and the City would be mightily pleased with news it will be sold. Ports and P&O Nedlloyd, its container shipping associate, are expected to be the main drivers of growth.

Results: Full year - Acambis, Biotrace International, Chime Communications, Claims People, French Connection, Goshawk Insurance, Huveaux, Interserve, SIG, P&O. Interims - Redrow.

WEDNESDAY: Strong results are expected from Aviva, the owner of Norwich Union. Investors are looking to see if performance in the European operation held up in the final quarter after a good first nine months. Profits are expected to break through the £2bn barrier.

Results: Full year - Antofagasta, Aviva, Balfour Beatty, Cairn Energy, Carillion, ITV, Restaurant Group, James Fisher.

THURSDAY: Results from International Power should follow confirmation that the electricity provider will rejoin the FTSE 100 this month. Analysts are looking for clarification of future dividend policy, with many seeing 2005 benefiting from a rise of at least 50 per cent.

The world's largest hotelier, InterContinental Hotels Group, is set to report a jump in 2004 profits, but the focus will be on its ongoing hotel sell-off and return of cash to shareholders. The group will update investors on the progress of its auction of 89 hotels with a book value of £1.5bn. Analysts expect a big boost to profits as the hotelier recovers from a difficult 2003 when hotel companies were hit by the effects of the Iraq war, Sars and fears of al-Qa'ida violence.

Results: Full year - Amec, Cobham, Heywood Williams, InterContinental, International Power, Royal & SunAlliance, SMG, T&F Informa.

FRIDAY: Results: Full year - Catlin, Laird, Marshalls, Singer & Friedlander.

Economics Diary

TODAY: G10 - Central bankers meeting in Basel. Eurozone - finance ministers meeting.

TOMORROW: UK - BRC retail sales monitor (Feb). Ecofin meeting.

WEDNESDAY: UK - manufacturing output (Jan); trade in goods & services (Jan). Germany - industrial production (Jan). US - Fed beige book. New Zealand - interest rate decision.

THURSDAY: UK - interest rate decision. ECB - monthly bulletin; ECB president Trichet speaks at conference. US - weekly jobless claims.

FRIDAY: US - trade balance (Jan).

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