The Week Ahead: Predators keep watchful eye on Pru figures

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The Independent Online

Since his appointment as the chief executive of Prudential in March last year, Mark Tucker has watched the market rally about 20 per cent.That's gone a long way towards easing worries created by the bear market and has substantially increased cash flow at the UK's No 2 insurer.

However, Pru's share price has failed to keep pace with the wider market, gaining just 16 per cent since Mr Tucker took over.

The broker Williams de Broë reckons the company looks relatively cheap and would make a good target for larger foreign buyers wanting to increase their exposure to the rapidly growing Asian market.

There has been a flurry of bid rumours in recent weeks, and Aviva, the country's biggest insurer, will be among those sure to take a hard look at Pru's results on Thursday. Expect to see the company address cost issues when it reports full-year figures. Experts expect pre-tax profits of a little more than £1.5bn.

TODAY: Bovis Homes is another name that has cropped up on the market rumour mill in recent weeks, mainly concerning a merger with its rival Redrow. Many sector watchers think this house builder has the best-managed land bank in the industry. A lack of liquidity in the market led to a 17 per cent decline in interim results compared with 2004, so analysts will look for signs of improvement. Expect full-year pre-tax profits of about £116m.

Mixed fortunes among the insurers have made likely results from Hiscox tough to call. The company is involved in high-risk property and retail insurance, and analysts expect pre-tax profits of £62m. Its shares have performed well, climbing approximately 66 per cent since early 2005, but given the good news already written into the price, any letdown is likely to be treated harshly.

Results: Full year - Bond International; Bovis Homes Group; Deal Group Media; Dialight; Group 4 Securicor; Hiscox; Interserve; John Laing; Johnson Service; Spirax-Sarco Engineering; Talarius; Ulster Television. First half - Foneback; Ultimate Finance.

TOMORROW: Some of the gloss has come off the mining sector recently, and Antofagasta, the Chile-based copper miner, has been among the worst hit.

Analysts are not only concerned about a weakening copper price, but also that the industry faces rising costs. Doubtless the company will report stellar results, with pre-tax profits expected to hit £821m, but experts are still fretting about the outlook for costs in 2006. Any nasty shocks would give the shares a drubbing. A controversial new ad campaign by French Connection has come under fire but the City will be more concerned about any impact on sales.

Profits fell 68 per cent over the first half of its year, and the fashion retailer has said it expects full-year profits to be nearer £20m than £25m. The broker Panmure Gordon thinks the company looks "expensive on all valuation metrics".

Watch out for numbers from Chorion, an intellectual property group that owns the rights to the childrens' character Noddy, among others. Chorion is subject to a bid from the private-equity group 3i. Its rival Hit Entertainment has made an approach too and Chorion may soon be at the centre of a bidding war.

Results: Full year - Advanced Medical Solutions; Antofagsta; Chorion; Computacenter; Cookson; Countrywide; Ennstone; French Connection; Guinness Peat; Informa; IP2IPO; James Fisher & Sons; Lighthouse; Mavinwood; Office2Office; Oxford Biomedical; Panmure Gordon; RPS; SMG; Xaar. First half - Glisten.

WEDNESDAY: After a disappointing February trading statement, the aerospace and medical-equipment makerSmiths Group reports interim results. Should the numbers disappoint there may be calls for the company to split, which could potentially release significant value to investors. Smiths must convince the market its problems with aerospace will be short-lived. Should it do so, expect upgrades to full-year numbers as brokers tend to like the stock.

Results: Full year - Amec; Ascribe; Atlantic Global; BATM Advanced Communications; BPP; Costain; Erinaceous; JKX Oil & Gas; Maclellan; Melrose; Shore Capital; TEG Environmental. First half - Smiths Group.

THURSDAY: UBS thinks Laird Group, the security systems maker, is "undervalued at current levels", and believes its shares could hit 530p, 23 per cent more than now. UBS expects the company to unveil pre-tax profits of £65.2m after a series of small acquisitions.

Results: Full year - 888 Holdings; Alfred McAlpine; Armor Group; Cattles; CODASciSys; Gyrus; Laird Group; OPD; PetroFac; Premier Farnell; Prudential; Torex Retail; Unite Group; Vernalis; Yule Catto. First half - Gondola Holdings; Kier Group; Wilmington.

FRIDAY: Results: Full year - Imprint; Legal & General.

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