The Week Ahead: National Grid boss prepares his $7.6bn American bid finale

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The Independent Online

Roger Urwin can't seem to get enough of the US. The chief executive of National Grid is holding talks that could lead his company to making a $7.6bn (£4.3bn) offer for KeySpan, a provider of gas and electricity in Long Island, New York. If he does pull the trigger, it would be the second time in a matter of weeks. He shelled out $498m for a Rhode Island gas company earlier this month, which built on the purchase in 2000 of Niagara Mohawk.

The deal could well be the last for Mr Urwin, who is set to retire at the end of the year.

Glen Moreno, on the other hand, is still new to his reign. The recently appointed chairman of Financial Times owner Pearson will lead his first annual results in kicking off a week in which more than 70 companies will unveil their performance to the market.

Pearson is set to report pre-tax profits of £412m for the year, according to Williams de Broë, reflecting the positive trading statement it made in January. Mr Moreno will undoubtedly be peppered with the perennial FT disposal questions, but Dame Marjorie Scardino's "sale over my dead body" policy still holds - for now.

Newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror announces annual earnings on Thursday, with Andrew Walsh of Bridgewell Securities forecasting a pre-tax profit of £213 m. Investors will be hoping for some good news from chief executive Sly Bailey on classified advertising after recent government statistics showed an increase in vacancies, seen as a lead indicator of advertising in regional papers. "The Bailey-inspired turnaround stalled a bit towards the end of last year," said Mr Walsh.

Ms Bailey will also be held to task over the integration of the internet recruitment businesses bought last year. Trinity Mirror halted a three-year, £240m share buyback programme to cover the £90m spent on the businesses, and investors will be keen to find out whether those cuts will be permanent.

After the strong performance turned in last week by Barclays and even long-time laggard Lloyds TSB, the market will be looking to Alliance & Leicester on Monday, Royal Bank of Scotland on Tuesday and HBOS on Wednesday for similarly glittering numbers. RBS is set for a pre-tax profit of £8bn, but analysts will be running over the numbers with a fine-tooth comb, paying close attention to the return on invested capital. "With RoIC rising," says a Williams de Broë research note, "share buybacks become what they should be - a useful mechanism to promote capital structure - rather than a desperate share price support effort."

Williams de Broë foresees a £4.8bn pre-tax profit for HBOS, which it expects will benefit from a more disciplined approach to capital spending.

The earnings of British American Tobacco and Gallaher, just two weeks after Parliament voted to ban smoking in public places, will be nothing if not timely. JP Morgan expects BAT to report a full-year pre-tax profit of £2.7bn, 8 per cent up on last year.

The outlook is less rosy for Gallaher, which JP Morgan expects to register a pre-tax profit of £565m, just 3 per cent better than the year before. The maker of Silk Cut cigarettes in the UK is struggling within Western Europe, where increased taxes and smoking and advertising bans throughout have cut into turnover.

Another company girding for the smoking ban is pub operator JD Wetherspoon, which is set to announce interim results on Friday. Like-for-like sales at pubs where the company is experimenting with a smoking ban have fallen markedly, though Wetherspoon will point out that the performance is misleading, given that the ban will soon affect all pubs. "They will definitely be questioned on the ban and what the likely outcome will be for their business," said Andrew Dawson at Charles Stanley.

The company will also be expected to show an improvement in its operating margins over last year, when they suffered due to a restructuring.

Mining group Xstrata is set to follow in the footsteps of rivals BHP Billiton and Anglo American. According to a consensus of 16 analysts, the miner will post a $1.7bn profit and distribute a hefty dividend.

Bookmaker William Hill, whose shares have outperformed the sector so far this year on the approval of its acquisition of Stanley Leisure and the ancillary effect of private equity interest in rival Ladbrokes, is coming back into favour. Shareholders will bend an ear to any guidance the company can give on the effect of the World Cup betting bonanza on its bottom line. Rank, operator of Mecca bingo halls, has been mentioned as a possible bidder for William Hill, though it is likely to stay mum on the subject when it publishes annual results on Friday.


Tomorrow 27

UK RESULTS: (final) Alliance & Leicester, Bunzl, Faroe Petroleum, Datamonitor, Domino's Pizza, Hammerson, Old Mutual, Pearson, Persimmon, Raymarine, Robert Walters, Stadium, Ultra Electronics; (interim) Ricardo

Tuesday 28

UK RESULTS: (F) Alliance Unichem, BBA, Bodycote International, British American Tobacco, CSR, GKN, Internet Business, MFI Furniture, St James's, Henderson, PartyGaming, Rotork, Royal Bank of Scotland, Stream, Taylor Woodrow, United Business Media; (I) AI Claims Solutions, Dechra Pharmaceuticals, Freeport, Hays, NXT, Powerleague, St James Place Capital, Surface Transforms, Ultimate Leisure

Wednesday 1

UK RESULTS: (F) Arena Leisure, Biotrace International, Devro, Filtrona, Gallaher, Genetix, HBOS, LogicaCMG, Lorien, Michael Page, Molins, Staffline Recruitment, TDG, Xstrata, Wilson Bowden, Serco, UK Coal; (I) Morse, Pure Wafer

Thursday 2

UK RESULTS: (F) Arriva, Nipson Digital, Senior, SHL, Standard Chartered, Tarsus, Trinity Mirror, UK Coal, William Hill; (I) Quayle Munro, Satcom

Friday 3

UK RESULTS: (F) Avis Europe, Brandon Hire, Flomerics, Rank, Retail Decisions; (I) JD Wetherspoon