The Week Ahead: Marks & Spencer finds there's no respite from the maelstrom

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer just can't stay out of the news. Be it the launch of new stores and strategies, a chairman stepping down or a recovery waning, the City has its eye on M&S and chief executive Roger Holmes. There won't be any let-up this week: the beleaguered retailer unveils full-year results on Tuesday.

Pre-tax profits of around £755m were confirmed at the pre-close update in March, so the focus will instead be on operational issues and management. The search is on for a replacement for chairman Luc Vandevelde, although no one is expecting any announcement so soon after his decision to step down, while uncertainty still surrounds the future of creative director Yasmin Yusuf.

Analysts are also hoping the retailer will talk about the structure of the clothing department and any plans to improve the supply chain, a constant thorn in M&S's side. Many are hoping Mr Holmes will take a more direct approach to sourcing.

Underlying all this will be trading - both at its core shops and the recently opened homewares outlet, Lifestore, which is understood to have missed its internal sales targets. Back in March, M&S revealed disappointing fourth-quarter trading for both clothes and, more worryingly, food. It's safe to say, then, that Mr Holmes will be gracing the news pages this week too.

Other retailers vying for space include GUS, the owner of catalogue chain Argos, and Burberry, the "luxury" brand it spun off. Both are expected to publish upbeat statements, with GUS's pre-tax profits rising from £517m to £809m bolstered by strict cost controls and better buying. Burberry profits will be up from £116m to £137m.

Also waving the retail flag will be Comet owner Kesa Electricals, which provides an update on trading at its annual general meeting, Iceland owner Big Food Group and Boots. Pre-tax profits at the health and beauty chain are expected to have nudged ahead around 2.2 per cent, to £567.7m, but there will be no update on current trading.

Woolworths holds its AGM on Thursday and will report on first-quarter trading. Core underlying sales are likely to be around 1 per cent, but the City wants to see better margins winning out over high volumes of chocolate eggs this Easter.

Away from retail, and EMI posts full-year figures tomorrow. Earlier this year the music group, home to Robbie Williams, unveiled a restructuring plan that could remove a number of artists from its roster as it tries to adapt to a slowing market in recorded music. Manufacturing is also to be outsourced and jobs cut, and the overhaul is expected to achieve £50m in cost savings, although associated exceptional costs are likely to rise to around £75m. In the meantime, full-year profits are predicted to slide from £177m to around £165m.

Another sector to have had it tough recently is hotels, but now the news is generally better. Last year, InterContinental Hotels spent the first quarter battling against the effects of war in Iraq and the onslaught of Sars. This time round and recovery is in the air, with analysts expecting a sharp rise in earnings. Europe remains a weak spot for the former Six Continents business, as for all hotel operators, but the City will be hoping for an upbeat forecast overall for the current financial year.

British Land is unlikely to have such good news to impart. Now Philip Yea has pulled out, the property group looks sure to fail in its pledge to find a new chief executive by July. Corporate governance - current incumbent John Ritblat is also chairman - will therefore be a hot topic on Tuesday, when it issues full-year numbers. The results, however, are expected to be far more robust, with pre-tax profits nudging ahead from £146m last year to around £151m.

Also likely to be incurring investor ire is media services group Aegis. The National Association of Pension Funds, which accounts for more than £600bn of pension assets, is recommending shareholders vote against the Aegis remuneration report. It believes director contracts and change-in-control provisions are out of line with best practice.

Other notable companies to look out for include the utilities Scottish Power, Kelda, and South Staffordshire; Vodafone and Kingston Communications in telecoms; magazine group Emap and HSBC, which holds its AGM on Friday.


Tomorrow 24

UK: Results: (final) Alterian, BSS Group, Detica Group, EMI Group, Merchant Retail, Torotrak, Uniq; (Interim) Connaught, Dawson Holdings, GET Group, Medisys.

Tuesday 25

UK: Results: (F) British Land, Burberry Group, Emap, GB Group, GUS, GWR Group, ICAP, Kingston Communications, Marchpole Holdings, Marks & Spencer, Scottish Power, South Staffordshire, Vodafone; (I) Hardys & Hansons, RM; (first quarter) Acambis.

Wednesday 26

UK: Results: (F) Bristol & West Investments, Business Serve, De La Rue, Electrocomponents, Great Portland Estates, Homeserve, Liontrust Asset Management, Pilkington, Protherics, Scapa Group, Shanks Group, Sondex; (I) Paragon Group Cos, Topps Tiles.

Thursday 27

UK: Results: (F) Big Food Group, Boots Group, BTG, Chloride Group, City Lofts Group, Investec; (I) Euromoney Institutional Investor, Pennon Group, Pillar Property, Young & Co's Brewery; (Q1) InterContinental Hotels Group, Premier Farnell.

Friday 28

UK: Results: (F) Fuller Smith & Turner, Plasmon.