the Week Ahead: Life tastes better at Sainsbury's but sour for M&S

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The Independent Online

Maybe it's the Jamie Oliver factor, because while Sainsbury's latest set of annual results, released in May, showed some improvements after several poor years, the company remains miles behind Tesco. In contrast, while the chief executive of M&S, Stuart Rose, can also point to some encouraging signs from the retailer's performance in recent months, he is still taking serious flak from shareholders and analysts alike. Both companies will give us their latest news on Wednesday and the outlook is mixed.

At M&S, analysts are warning that the retailer's update for the first three months of 2005 will show a seventh consecutive quarter of falling underlying sales. Richard Ratner, of Seymour Pierce, predicts flat sales from M&S's food department and non-food sales down by up to 7 per cent on last year.

Sainsbury's, meanwhile, is arguably less vulnerable to the continuing consumer slowdown, and may get a warmer reception from shareholders. It has given a trading update for the first quarter, which showed further evidence that is has turned the corner. And the latest data from the market analyst TNS suggests the supermarket is slowly recovering market share - it has a chance of overhauling Asda as the No 2 UK supermarket group before the end of the year.

The bottom line, however, is that all retailers would benefit from an interest rate cut. Although the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee opted to keep base rates at 4.75 per cent last week, the next few days' economic indicators will be studied, as pressure mounts for a reduction next month.

Last week's attacks on London will add to that pressure, amid concerns that the outrages could have a damaging impact on the UK economy. In that context, today's retail figures and trade data are crucial.

TODAY: The stockbroker Numis predicts annual pre-tax profits of £1.2m at ASOS, the online fashion retailer, of about double last year's figure of £600,000. In March, the company said it was performing in line with market expectations, and profits would not come in less than £1.05m, but Numis expects sales growth of about 80 per cent to boost that figure.

The next challenge for the rapidly expanding company is a move to a new warehouse next month, offering 70,000 sq ft of space and enabling the company to up its stock.

Results: Full year - ASOS, BBI Holdings. Interims - St Modwen Properties.

TOMORROW: The IT services company Anite said in May that its telecoms division was performing ahead of expectations and its results would be at the upper end of forecasts. Look for earnings before goodwill, exceptionals and provisions of £17.2m, up from £15.7m on a like-for-like basis last year.

The set-top box manufacturer Pace Micro Technology is also enjoying a return to favour thanks to big contract wins in the US and Holland. The stockbroker Charles Stanley points out that the company has disappointed in the past, but continuing demand for more advanced digital-television services should boost its fortunes.

Results: Full year - Anite Group, Broker Network, Glotel, Halladale Group, Immunodiagnostic Systems, Neutec Pharma, Pace Micro Technology, Worthington Group. Trading update - Big Yellow Group, Blacks Leisure.

WEDNESDAY: Miserable weather doesn't necessarily spell disaster for Center Parcs. Its unique selling point is that its domes protect holidaymakers from intemperate climes. The UK holiday-village operator reported a strong Easter period last month and is likely topublish sunny full-year results.

Results: Full year - Avocet Mining, Bespak, Center Parcs, Inter Link Foods, Reg Vardy. Trading update - Greggs, Halfords, Marks & Spencer, J Sainsbury, Wyevale Garden Centres.

THURSDAY: Numis reckonsBurberry should produce total retail sales growth of 8 per cent, with the increase driven by the opening of new stores and better returns from licensing. The luxury fashion chain's fans include the Dutch broker ABN Amro, which said two weeks ago the company's shares were undervalued by up to 40 per cent.

Results: Full year - Biofuels, Burberry, FirstGroup.

FRIDAY: Mothercare completes this week's line-up of news from retailers. Numis expects the company to have weathered the retail slowdown, while boosting profits, thanks to improving profit margins.

Results: Trading update - Barratt Developments, Mothercare.

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