The Week Ahead: Sales up by 7 per cent? Now that's what I call Tesco value

You've heard the bad news, now get ready for the good. This week, supermarket giant Tesco takes centre stage and should provide some sunshine in an otherwise gloomy retail sector.

Recent data from market research firm TNS showed Tesco's sales, excluding petrol, surged a massive 13.7 per cent over the eight-week period to 2 January. City analysts are being slightly more subdued, but still believe underlying sales will come in at around 7 per cent.

As Lehman Brothers sums up in a recent research note: "With the total UK retail market, inclusive of food, slowing, Tesco offers relative growth from a position of strength in a defensive product category. We continue to view Tesco as a core holding."

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein has also pencilled in underlying sales of around 7 per cent, but conceded last week that the retailer could well beat that.

Tesco is not the only retailer updating as the flurry of festive reports continues. Boots, Comet-owner Kesa, HMV, WH Smith and clothing chains Monsoon, Laura Ashley and Austin Reed, among others, will discuss recent trading. Somerfield, a much smaller rival of Tesco, posts interim results.

WH Smith will be watched particularly closely. Market gossip suggested last December that a profit warning could be due ahead of Christmas. However, since the Financial Services Authority warned retailers that they must tell the market immediately about any profit-denting trading, many now believe things are not unremittingly dire at the struggling chain. But the news is still unlikely to be buoyant as WH Smith, like HMV - which also posts interim numbers - will probably have suffered from slowing DVD and music sales.

HMV, owner of Waterstones, is expected to post interim profits of £13.1m on sales of £759m. Analysts will also want more details of its recently announced downloading venture.

Another key update will be from Boots. The health-and-beauty chain went heavy on gifts this Christmas, raising concerns in some quarters that it was straying unwisely away from its core offering. Margins will also be in the spotlight after a range of three-for-two promotions recently, and the City will want firm reassurance on full-year profit forecasts.

Kesa could surprise on the upside, though. Rival Dixons warned late last year of tough times ahead but surprised the City last week with a jump in festive sales, mainly because of strong demand for MP3 players and flat-panel televisions. But consumers are curbing their spending habits, and big-ticket items traditionally suffer first, so Kesa, which also owns Darty in France, will come under close scrutiny.

And rounding off a week of all things retail (and the retail festive update season) will be official high street sales figures for December. At this late stage, they are expected to confirm what most already know, that consumers put off hitting the shops until the last minute. Economists forecasting a rise believe it will be minor, up to around 0.5 per cent, while more bearish commentators are predicting a decline - HSBC, for example, has pencilled in a 0.5 per cent dip.

It may not seem that way, but retail is not the only game in town. Although results are thin on the ground, some updates are due from other sectors, the biggest of which is booze. Tenanted-pub chain Enterprise Inns, brewer SABMiller and pub-and-brewing group Wolverhampton & Dudley are all addressing the City.

SABMiller, the US-South African giant that is listed in London, has already hit the headlines by announcing it would be interested in Canadian group Molson if its proposed merger with US rival Adolph Coors falls through. The focus this week will be on SABMiller's regional trading. Although Miller is getting back on track in the States, that market, like Europe's, remains tough. Africa, however, should spawn better news for the group.

Enterprise Inns and Wolverhampton & Dudley have already said that their current financial years have got off to a good start. But Christmas is a crucial time for the pubs sector, as it is for the retailers - only summer is more important - so analysts will want to hear strong festive news from both companies.

Meanwhile, British Energy will be relisted on the FTSE 250 tomorrow after its bondholders and bank lenders swapped their debt for shares. The nuclear generator is expected to be valued at around £1.8bn. The loss-making company delisted in October to stop rebel shareholders derailing its restructuring.

Stateside, and market players have things other than Christmas on their minds. Exchanges will be shut for Martin Luther King Day tomorrow but when they reopen, the focus will be on fourth-quarter results. IBM, Motorola, Yahoo!, eBay, banking giant Citigroup, Cazenove's joint-venture partner JP Morgan Chase, 3M, Ford and General Electric are all scheduled to report. The Federal Reserve Beige Book, out on Wednesday, will also give a crucial snapshot of the economy.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 17

UK: Results: (final) Domino Printing; (interim) Halladale, HMV, Vega.

Tuesday 18

UK: Results: (F) GW Pharmaceuticals, London Scottish Bank, Sanctuary Group, Theratase; (I) Bespak, DTZ Holdings, Somerfield.

Wednesday 19

UK: Results: (I) Angle, Inter Link Foods.

Thursday 20

UK: Results: (third quarter) QXL Ricardo.

Friday 21

UK: Results: none scheduled.

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