The Week Ahead: Mothercare prepares for further blows

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The Independent Online

It is rarely good news for shareholders when a leading broker turns more cautious on their company a few days before it is due to issue a trading statement. This is what happened on Thursday to Mothercare when Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein warned its clients that "industry pressures are deeply unhelpful" for the children's clothing and toys retailer.

The German broker also cut its sales and earnings forecasts for Mothercare. For the second half of the group's year it now expects like-for-like sales to register a 2 per cent fall, having previously pencilled in just a 0.5 per cent drop. This implies the retailer has had a tough fourth quarter and DKW also cut back its pre-tax profit forecasts for the year from £19.7m to £19.3m.

Unsurprisingly, Mothercare shares lost ground last week and if the lacklustre statement the German broker is expecting from the group does materialise on Thursday, they are likely to fall further in its wake.

Today: Brokers believe further disappointments from the bookseller Ottakar's are unlikely, despite a profits warning in January. Most in the Square Mile expect Ottakar's to achieve a full-year pre-tax profit of £7m, up from £6.1m last time. The main focus of the result will be management comments about current trading.

Despite the recent downturn on the high street, these should not be too downbeat as book sales tend to be low-ticket items, leaving them relatively well insulated from changes in consumer sentiment. At an operational level, analysts hope Ottakar's new finance director, Michael Hitchcock, will be able to unveil some cost reductions.

Comments from Tate & Lyle management in January indicated trading was "going well" at the sugar giant. Little will have changed since then and the group's trading statement should show that all is on track for it to meet City forecasts at its June annual results. The consensus among analysts is that it will deliver a pre-tax profit of £223m in the summer. But Investec Securities believes this figure is far too conservative and that Tate & Lyle should easily come in with a profit of more than £240m.

Results: Full year - Deal Group Media; Ottakar's. Interims - Scott Tod. Trading statements - Tate & Lyle.

Tomorrow: In recent years Bloomsbury Publishing has accumulated a serious amount of cash thanks to its stable of Harry Potter books, the last of which it will publish this year. But what does the group plan to do with this money? This is a question Bloomsbury will have to answer when it posts its annual results. Investec Securities believes it will use the cash to fund further acquisitions and is certain these will act as a catalyst for the company's shares.

As for the results themselves, the broker expects Bloomsbury to deliver a 6.5 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £16.4m. Also of interest to the investment community will be the performance of Walker Publishing, a recent acquisition in the US, and news on progress at the company's German business.

Emap's first-half results revealed its consumer publishing business was enjoying above-industry growth and improving margins. But things are going less well for Emap's radio business and the group's trading statement will reflect this. It had a weak first half and profits are expected to be down due to investment in the online launch of Kerrang!, Emap's rock magazine, and digital radio. For the full year, analysts expect Emap as a whole to deliver a rise in pre-tax profits of about 3 per cent to £201m.

Results: Full year - AG Barr; Bloomsbury Publishing; Watermark; Wireless Group; Pixology. Interims - None. Trading statements - Emap.

Thursday: Results: Full year - Alpha Airports; Ashtenne Holdings; Maiden Group; Melrose Resources; UCM Group. Interims - On-Line; Sinclair Pharma. Trading statement - Mothercare.

Friday: Investors can expect BTG's trading update to show the intellectual property group is on track to achieve break-even by March 2006. This is the target of Louise Makin, who was appointed chief executive in September, but some in the City believe it will prove to be far too conservative. BTG is unloved by the investment community as many still remember the financial pain they suffered when the group's Varisolve treatment for varicose veins failed to win regulatory approval in the US. But the drug is by no means a write-off and BTG has more than 30 core products which it is looking to develop.

Results: None. Trading statements - BTG.

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