The Week Ahead: Maker of Magners struggles to restore fizz

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The Independent Online

As punters' taste for iced cider waned in the dreary summer months, C&C, owner of last year's marketing sensation Magners, took a battering. The shares went into freefall in June, shedding more than half their value, to hit a low of 5.08p at the end of August. There has been vague talk of potential takeovers from larger rivals, but so far the stock has struggled to rise beyond the 6p mark.

The shares could fall again this week at its half-year results on Wednesday as analysts estimate profits of ¿73.8m, down a third on last year, although those fears could already be priced in.

There are mixed opinions over whether the group can turn the decline around. Liam Igoe of Goodbody Stockbrokers expects a similar decline in cider profits in 2008, while Deutsche Bank is more sanguine about long-term prospects. "We think premium cider and Magners can become long-term viable alternatives to beer; as such C&C offers investors considerable long-term upside," it added.

TOMORROW: After hitting a 74.75p peak for the year in May, riding high on the spring weather, Clinton Cards has struggled ever since, hampered particularly by its loss-making Birthdays division. Analysts at Numis maintained that new marketing strategies may yet bear fruit, allowing profit recovery in the longer term, but they warned that "the balance sheet simply will not cope with a Christmas disaster". Full-year pre-tax figure is expected to be in the region of £12.7m.

The home shopping specialist N Brown Group impressed when announcing its full-year results in May, but returns over the summer disappointed the market. Analysts are predicting a modest recovery for the group, after solid work to expand its ranges, with a consensus £33.5m pre-tax profits for the half year, with sales of £288m.

Regent Inns had a tougher summer than most, as delays in permission from landlords meant the refurbishment of its Old Orleans chain was put on hold. Despite a brief rally, the group's shares have recently continued their descent over the summer. Analysts are calling profits to be £8.2m lower than last year, after weak trading in flagship venues such as Jongleurs and Walkabout. The latter, according to analysts, is not best supplied with outside areas for smokers, while sports pubs in general are more sensitive to the ban.

Paul Hickman from KBC Peel Hunt said prospects weren't great after it warned on fourth-quarter trading, with issues including a poor comparative against the World Cup. "The issue is that the company has disappointed on execution, and the market will therefore wait until a positive turnaround is actually confirmed."

Results: Full year – Clinton Cards, Regent Inns. First half – N Brown Group, Summit Corp. Trading Update – Greggs, Northern Foods.

WEDNESDAY: There will probably be one issue playing on the minds of investors in Cadbury Schweppes. The confectioner has been dominated by the on-off sale of its US beverages arm, with the stock yo-yoing accordingly, and positive progress would be well received. On Friday, Sanford Bernstein put an "outperform" rating on the stock, as it hopes for positive noises on second-half sales.

J Sainsbury's results will provide a clearer backdrop of the state of the company amid the takeover saga involving Qatari-backed Delta Two. Rivals have reported falling sales for June and July, and Sainsbury's is unlikely to escape.

Results: Half-year – C&C Group, Rugby Estates. Trading update – Cadbury Schweppes, Carphone Warehouse, Experian,J Sainsbury, SSL International, Vedanta Resources.

THURSDAY: While the wet summer boosted sales in its book division, WH Smith's share price has proved volatile this year. It peaked at 460.75p in May and slumped as low as 362p in August. Analysts continue to hold faith in the company, however, pointing to the growing importance of its branches in railway stations and airports.

The bullish sentiment on its full-year earnings expects a decent increase on last year's £51m.

The aircraft charter broker Air Partner will also be posting its results on Thursday, and after recent strong share price performance and profits rising last year to the tune of 75 per cent, the company is unlikely to disappoint.

Investors will be licking their lips over Thorntons' trading update, keen to see if the niche confectioner can continue its recent recovery in sales. This comes after new marketing measures and the reintroduction of old favourites in its stores; the company announced a 36 per cent improvement in annual profits last month, up at £7.1m.

Results: Full year – WH Smith, Air Partner. Trading updates – Hays, Sage, Thorntons.

FRIDAY: Results: Half-year– Volex.

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