The Week Ahead: Rita dampens insurers' hopes of full comeback from Katrina

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The Independent Online

After Hurricane Katrina, the US is now coping with the ravages of Rita. Insurers will be hoping that the losses do not match those of Katrina, which could cost the sector as much as $60bn (£34bn). There was hope that they would more than recoup their losses from the first hurricane, through higher premiums, but another devastating storm could dampen that optimism.

Such is the fear surrounding Rita that London's International Petroleum Exchange has traded throughout the weekend, the first time in its 25-year history. The New York Mercantile Exchange, where crude is traded in the US, is also open today, and the price of oil on both sides of the Atlantic will be closely scrutinised this week. Stock and commodity markets around the world will also be monitoring the fallout.

Although Rita is likely to be the main topic of interest, there is also a busy time ahead in terms of trading updates and other corporate news.

The pubs sector will hear from Mitchells & Butler, owner of the All Bar One chain, which is updating investors on trading. The group is reported to be organising a joint venture with fellow operator Punch to make a £2.5m offer for Spirit, the UK's fourth-largest chain. As for the trading, analysts at Barclays say they expect the company's growth rate to have been maintained or improved.

Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries, meanwhile, the owner of the Pitcher & Piano chain as well as brewing interests, is also in takeover mode after spending almost £14m in August to buy English Country Inns. However, the market will be most interested to find out how the company is handling the slowing demand for beer.

Across the Atlantic, it will be the sale of non-alcoholic drinks under scrutiny by investors when PepsiCo reports third- quarter results. There were reports last week that the world's second-largest producer of soft drinks is interested in buying Cadbury Schweppes' European drinks arm, an acquisition that could be worth more than £1bn. Analysts will want to hear more.

Back at home and retailers stay in the news with music store HMV, which owns also Waterstones. Annual results in June showed demand for albums had helped boost sales by 3.8 per cent, but the group is still to finalise its takeover of bookstore Ottakar's. Goldman Sachs says profits have been weakened by rising costs in rents and business rates, so analysts will want some reassurance.

Boots, meanwhile, will see its update closely scrutinised after a first-quarter update in July revealed a slump in underlying sales. Analysts are desperate for some good news from Boots, and any progress report on the £1bn auction of its drugs arm, Boots Healthcare International.

Two of the big dairies, Dairy Crest and Wiseman Dairies, also have trading statements due. Their shares fell in August on news that Arla Foods, the country's biggest supplier of milk, would miss analysts' profit forecasts. That followed a 1 per cent fall in Dairy Crest's underlying profits when it reported in May. Analysts have predicted that profits before tax will drop this year from £84.2m to around £76m. Wiseman reported in August that profits for the year would fall 20 per cent because of the loss of a £40m contract with Wm Morrison.

Food will continue to be of interest when Compass, the world's biggest contract caterer, gives an update. Analysts will be hoping for good news after profit warnings and an accounting adjustment that wiped £20m off operating profit.

The news is hardly better at construction group Mowlem, which last week announced it would have to book a £70m charge following a review of accounting policies. Add to that the four profits warnings issued so far this year and analysts will be looking at the interim results this week for any sign of hope.

Elsewhere, and shareholder group Pensions Investment Research Consultants will ask for more reform of corporate governance at soap maker PZ Cussons, home to Imperial Leather, at its AGM tomorrow.

The week will not be all doom and gloom, however. In keeping with the buoyant M&A trend, the deadline for bids for online success story Friends Reunited is this week, and the price is likely to hit around £100m. Reports claim that the media group Daily Mail and General Trust is preparing a bid.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 26

UK: Results: (final) Fonebank, ICM Computer Group,Wolseley; (interim) Alexon, Charles Taylor Consulting, Datamonitor, Disperse Group, Entertainment Rights, Freeplay Energy, P&MM Group, Personal Group, Plethora Solutions, Polyfuel, Severfield-Rowan, Sigma Technology, Smallbone, Torex Retail.

Tuesday 27

UK: Results: (F) Eliza Tinsley Group, Lincat Group, Sygnairgen, White Young Green; (I) Akers Bioscience, Atlantic Global, Barr (AG), Cello Group, Corin, Game Group, Havelock Europa, JKX Oil & Gas, Newport Networks, Parity Group, Public Recruitment, Robotic Technology Systems, Soco International, Television Corporation.

Wednesday 28

UK: Results: (F) Barratt Developments, Powerleague Group, Pure Wafer, Ultimate Leisure; (I) AeroBox, Atrium Underwriting, Camellia, Emerald Energy, Evolutec, House of Fraser, HR Owen, In Cup Plus, Inditherm, Kesa Electricals, Linton Park, Mowlem, Skyepharma, Stream Group.

Thursday 29

UK: Results: (F) Dickinson Legg, PFI Infrastructure; (I) Alpha Airports, BNB Recruitment, ClearSpeed Technology, S&U, Spring Group, Tissue Science Laboratories, Vividas Group.

Friday 30

UK: Results: (F) Ceres Power; (I) Antonov, TripleArc.

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