The Week Ahead: Power, transport and the media make a heady City cocktail

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The Independent Online

We enter drought season this week as the number of companies reporting results slows to a trickle. British Airways kicks things off with its first-quarter results. It is expected to introduce an £8 surcharge for all long-haul passengers because record oil prices mean its fuel bill is soaring. BA has fewer long-term fuel-supply contracts than most other European airlines, which means it is more exposed to fluctuations in the oil price.

On Tuesday, insurance group Old Mutual reports interim results. Broker Williams de Broë is forecasting pre-tax profits of £430m against £395m last time, on the back of a pick-up in the South African economy, where the group makes over half its profits, and an improved performance at its banking subsidiary Nedcor. But analysts caution that the market remains nervous about the group's plans to make a UK acquisition, which is acting as a drag on the share price.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Walt Disney chief executive Michael Eisner is under pressure to show that the world's second-largest media company is back on track - and that he should be running it. At the company's annual general meeting earlier this year, more than 40 per cent of its shareholders voted to oust him, but he has managed to cling on to his job. Following seriously strong second-quarter results, the third-quarter figures are unlikely to be Mickey Mouse. But Mr Eisner may be regretting his decision not to distribute Michael Moore's box-office hit, the controversial documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11.

On Thursday, analysts want Royal & SunAlliance to show that insurance - or at least the profit that insurers can make - is exciting. But its interim results are unlikely to set the world alight, with management having labelled 2004 a "transitional year" after re-organising the business. Pre-tax profits are expected to be down £51m on last year to £300m.

Scottish Power is reporting first-quarter figures on Thursday. The energy group, which three years ago was the bête noire of the sector, has transformed itself into the City's darling. Analysts will want to see if chief executive Ian Russell can come good on his claim that the group can sustain its customer growth figures; 50,000 new customers were added every month in the last quarter. Barclays Private Clients points out that the weakness in the dollar will eat into profits from its US subsidiary Pacificorp, but still expects a further improvement in Scottish Power's earnings.

Ship operator P&O, which is carrying out a strategic review of its business, reports interims on the same day. Williams de Broë says that continuing strength in its freight business will drive the group into the black, to the tune of £50m, against a £10m loss for the same time last year. But it warns that P&O's customer ferry division has had a quiet first half and there will be further decline into the second half. The stockbroker, which has a sell recommendation on the stock, does not expect any news on the strategic review until next month.

On the same day, mining group Xstrata is set to report bumper interim numbers because of soaring commodities prices. Analysts expect red hot income of $343m (£187m) against $81m last year, due to massive demand from Asia, and especially China, for its key commodities: thermal coal, copper and coking coal. Analysts will be looking for clues on what the company will do with its enormous cash pile - acquisitions or dividends?

There is a raft of important economic data out this week which will go a long way to determining whether there will be another rate rise next month.

First off, the British Retail Consortium will release retail spending figures for July. Economists will be looking to see if it tallies with the CBI's survey for the same month, which reported a sharp slowdown in consumer spending.

On Tuesday, inflation data for July is out, with Barclays economists expecting it to fall back to an annual rate of 1.5 per cent following the increase to 1.6 per cent recorded for June. But this is only likely to be a temporary reprieve because soaring oil prices this month will feed into consumer prices.

Most important, the Bank of England's quarterly inflation report is due out on Wednesday. The report, which the Bank had when it raised rates last week, will provide useful insights into where the Bank sees inflation heading and when, and by how much, it will push up the cost of borrowing again.

In the US, on Tuesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates to 1.5 per cent, after June's 0.25 per cent hike.


Tomorrow 9

UK: Results: (first quarter) British Airways, Marconi, Workspace Group; (interim) Headlam Group, Management Consulting, Morgan Sindall; (final) NWF Group.

US: Results: (I) Liberty Media, Sotheby's.

Tuesday 10

UK: Results: (F) Northern Recruitment, Stagecoach, Theatre Arts; (I) Old Mutual, ROK Property Solutions; (third quarter) Warner Chilcott.

US: Results: (F) Cisco; (I) EchoStar; (Q3) Walt Disney.

Wednesday 11

UK: Results: (I) Balfour Beatty, Nichols, Xenova; (F) KS Biomedix, Fiske, Homestyle.

Thursday 12

UK: Results: (I) CD Bramall, Chesnara, Countrywide, P&O, Royal & SunAlliance, Xstrata; (Q1) Scottish Power; (F) Sirvis.

US: Results: (I) Dell, Wal-Mart.

Friday 13

UK: Results: (F) Argyll Consultancies, Berkeley Morgan, Bidcorp, Celtic, Coffeeheaven, Tom Hoskins; (I) Portmeirion, Schroders.