The Week Ahead: Slowing Sky subscriptions put pressure on satellite scion

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The Independent Online

Few chief executives can feel the weight of expectation more keenly than James Murdoch. The son of media mogul Rupert caused a furore last year when he was appointed chief executive of BSkyB and this week, six months down the line, Mr Murdoch Jnr takes centre stage once again when the satellite broadcaster posts its third-quarter figures.

Few chief executives can feel the weight of expectation more keenly than James Murdoch. The son of media mogul Rupert caused a furore last year when he was appointed chief executive of BSkyB and this week, six months down the line, Mr Murdoch Jnr takes centre stage once again when the satellite broadcaster posts its third-quarter figures.

All eyes will be on whether he is on track to meet the target set by his highly regarded predecessor, Tony Ball, of eight million subscribers by the end of next year. Broker SG Securities is predicting there will have been just 89,000 new subscribers between January and March - below the 100,000 needed to hit the eight million mark. BSkyB increased subscription prices by 5 per cent in January.

However, says SG Securities analyst Anthony de Larrinaga, all is not lost: "Sky's subscriber growth has been boosted by one-off factors like the collapse of ITV Digital. It is natural now that growth is slowing.

"James Murdoch has been criticised for not coming up with a grand vision. I think that's unfair - he has only been at the company for six months. The key issue is that Sky is flexible enough to cope with changing circumstances."

Also publishing results is security specialist Securicor. Its interim figures come out tomorrow but the focus will be on its coming merger with Danish rival Group 4 Falck. Securicor is expected to announce a date for the extraordinary general meeting that will allow shareholders to vote on the proposed nil premium deal.

Final figures from venture capital group 3i are expected to confirm that the improvement seen at the interim results is continuing. Analysts are looking for a solid level of investment from 3i in coming months.

Elsewhere, and a number of companies will use annual general meetings to update shareholders on current trading. They include the UK-based Asian banking giant Standard Chartered, Benson & Hedges owner Gallaher (where growth is likely to have been held back by the US dollar, although the UK market has stabilised in recent months) and Reckitt Benckiser.

The news from the ever-dependable household goods giant, owner of Dettol, Airwick and Brasso polish, is likely to be good. Last month's trading update revealed first-quarter sales and profits rose at twice the pace Reckitt Benckiser had forecast, boosted in the main by the introduction of new products. Analysts are now looking for organic sales growth of around 6 per cent to give sales of £861m, as well as an improvement in gross margin.

There will be an update from BAA on the traffic moving through its airports - which include Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted - last month. So far this year the news has been good, with the March data showing a 10.4 per cent rise, boosted by the popularity of budget travel and the gradual recovery of the long-haul sector. Analysts are hoping for more of the same this time round.

Across the Channel, and the German travel giant TUI, owner of the UK's Thomson, posts first-quarter figures. Here, favourable comparables are likely to help, as in the same period last year the group suffered from the build-up to the Iraq war (the first quarter is also a traditionally weak period for travel companies). Analysts are predicting a reduction in losses, from around €250m (£168m) last year to €180m.

Earlier this year, TUI painted an upbeat picture for tourism in 2004; the City will be hoping the company has had no reason to change that outlook since then.

Other mainland European companies reporting include the Italian clothing group Benetton and ostentatious jewellery brand Bulgari.

On the economic front, if you thought it was about time the newsflow eased off, following last week's updates from not one but three central banks, think again.

In a busy week, the Bank of England's inflation report is arguably the most important announcement. Economists will be scrutinising it for further explanation of last week's quarter-point interest rate rise, as well as signs that the Bank could quicken its programme of future rises. At the moment, most are pencilling in August for the cost of borrowing to be hiked upwards again.

Other data to look out for include the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's house price survey, the British Retail Consortium's retail sales monitor, unemployment numbers and news on manufacturing output in March. Here, economists are hoping for a bounce of around a little under 1 per cent, following the previous month's surprise 0.6 per cent drop.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 10

UK: Results: (final) Bizspace, Griffin Mining; (interim) Diploma, Securicor, Windsor.

Tuesday 11

UK: Results: (F) Robert Wiseman Dairies, Ukbetting; (I) Centurion Electronics, Sage Group; (first quarter) BG Group.

Wednesday 12

UK: Results: (F) Alliance Pharma, FirstGroup, N Brown Group; (second quarter) Galen Holdings; (third quarter) British Sky Broadcasting.

Thursday 13

UK: Results: (F) 3i Group, QXL Ricardo, Viridian Group; (I) BOC Group, Lastminute.com, Lonmin, Ultraframe; (Q1) Reckitt Benckiser; (Q3) Antisoma.

Friday 14

UK: Results: (F) Synergy Healthcare.

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