The Week Ahead: Shareholders 'stand ready to downgrade' at Morrisons

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The Independent Online

Wm Morrison's new recruit, Marc Bolland, is in the hot seat this week and will preside over the retailer's first-half results on Thursday after just a fortnight as the company's chief executive.

Mr Bolland's appointment comes as the group tries to turn around its fortunes following its acquisition of Safeway in 2004. The recruitment in effect sidelines Sir Ken Morrison, the headstrong son of the founder, from day-to-day management.

This will be Mr Bolland's first showing in front of the City, and analysts remain cautious about the outlook for the retailer. Charles Stanley's Jeremy Batstone said he was leaving his "hold" rating on Morrisons ahead of the results but has told investors to "stand ready to downgrade".

"Mr Bolland is going to have to address a pedestrian sales performance and serious work needs to be done to turn around smaller Safeway stores," he added. "The outlook statement is, as ever, critical to sentiment as August's weather failed to live up to expectations. For now, we give the company the benefit of the doubt."

Among other retailers that the City will be looking to for greater clarity on the sector, following a mixed bag of results from the high street last week, are department store group Debenhams, which updates on trading, and Woolworths, which reports half-year figures.

Mr Batstone said Woolworths investors, who were recently focused on talk of the company's largest shareholder, Baugur, proposing to bid for the group and carve it up, would now be turning their attention to the retailer's trading outlook.

A much firmer takeover target, Gondola, also reports results. The owner of Pizza Express, ASK and Zizzi is the subject of a £559m bid from private equity firm Cinven, which last week received the backing of two leading Gondola shareholders.

Market watchers, meanwhile, will turn to the US for an update on the world's largest economy. The Federal Reserve will decide whether to increase interest rates on Wednesday, and housing market data for America is expected tomorrow and Tuesday. It was uncertainty about the strength of the US economy that sent global markets plunging a fortnight ago, and of particular concern was the property sector after house prices suffered their biggest slowdown in three decades during the second quarter.

Investec economist Philip Shaw said: "The news was pretty bad and we will watch to see if the pace of the slowdown in US housing has abated."

As for the Federal Reserve, Mr Shaw believes it will keep rates on hold for the time being. "Providing inflation subsides, we see rates beginning to come down by the middle of next year," he added.

Fears of a global economic slowdown sent commodity prices lower last week, taking the wind out of the sails of the resources stocks. But commodities still remain historically high, with the spot copper price trading nearly 80 per cent higher than 12 months ago.

That should bode well for FTSE 100 copper and zinc producer Kazakhmys, which reports its interim results on Tuesday. Analysts are expecting the group to post first-half earnings of around $1bn (£532m), just shy of the company's entire 2005 earnings of $1.1bn.

The oil price may have touched a near six-month low of $63 last week, but the black stuff's strength this year should also boost the performance of oil explorers and producers.

Venture Production, which has operations in the North Sea and offshore in Trinidad, hands down its interim results on Tuesday, while Premier Oil reports its first- half results on Thursday. Also reporting interim results on Thursday is Russian gold producer Peter Hambro Mining.

Also reporting this week is financial services company Resolution, which is expected to join the FTSE 100 later this month following its £3.6bn acquisition of Abbey's life insurance business. Resolution reports its half-yearly results on Wednesday while New Star Asset Management will deliver its interims on Friday.

Moving abroad and Europe's biggest wine and spirits company, Pernod Ricard, presents its full-year results on Thursday. JP Morgan analyst Simon Hales expects the French company, which spent £7bn last year snapping up UK rival Allied Domecq, to report a good set of figures.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 18

UK RESULTS: (final) Albemarle & Bond, Real Good Food, Pure Wafer, Synairgen, Wilmington; (interim) Burren Energy, Collins Stewart, Dialight, Goals Soccer Centres, Oxonica, Petrofac.

Tuesday 19

UK RESULTS: (F) Netcall; (I) Bloomsbury Publishing, ClearSpeed Technology, Corac, Development Securities, Kazakhmys, MP Evans, Orca Interactive, Sportech, Sterling Energy, Trafficmaster, Ukrproduct, Venture Production.

Wednesday 20

UK RESULTS: (I) Alea, Alkane Energy, Arena Leisure, Augean, Eleksen, Heywood Williams, Huntsworth, Resolution, Woolworths, Work.

Thursday 21

UK RESULTS: (F) Gondola, NXT; (I) Biocompatibles International, Capital & Region, Dawnay Day Treveria, Freeplay Energy, Intercytex, London Capital, Peter Hambro Mining, Premier Oil, UCM, WM Morrison.

Friday 22

UK RESULTS: (F) James Halstead; (I) New Star Asset Management.

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