The week ahead: Stop that Christmas shopping, MyTravel is having an EGM
Sunday 19 December 2004
And so the year ends, in the City at least. This week the corporate newsflow grinds to a near halt as markets close for the festivities. The New York Stock Exchange shuts at 12.30pm on Christmas Eve, while at home, the London Stock Exchange also gets its holiday break under way at 12.30pm.
It will remain closed on 27 and 28 December before resuming normal trading hours on Wednesday and Thursday. On New Year's Eve, trading stops again at 12.30pm and does not resume until Tuesday 4 January.
But before everyone heads off on holiday, there will be one or two party poopers, of which the main one is MyTravel.
The action begins tomorrow when the holiday company's bondholders have their day in court. They won the right last week to go to the High Court and put their case that the ailing firm has no right to implement its £800m debt-for-equity swap without their consent.
If they win, MyTravel will hold an EGM on Christmas Eve to address shareholders. If it wins, however, it can go through with the refinancing, though last week the bondholders were examining suing MyTravel should it succeed tomorrow.
Aberdeen Asset Management, meanwhile, remains hopeful it will get full-year results out "before Christmas", although no date has been set. The fund manager, which has until the end of January to publish its figures, has held off while it concludes talks with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) about the split-capital investment trusts debacle.
Most expect the watchdog to confirm that investors who lost out in the scandal can only get compensation of around £200m, far less than the £350m sought by the FSA from 20 banks, brokers and fund managers.
Also still at work will be InterContinental Hotels. The second-round bidding for control of 75 of its UK hotels, with a net book value of around £1bn, closes on Wednesday. So far, the three frontrunners are Goldman Sachs' property fund, Whitehall; the private equity firm Blackstone; and Lehman Brothers. InterContinental is selling the hotels via a sale and manage-back arrangement.
Others holding off the festive holidays are software group Misys, which provides an update on first-half business, and housebuilder Persimmon, which issues a trading statement at a round-table analyst meeting. There the emphasis will be on the strength of the housing market, any potential plans to return cash to shareholders and clues to further consolidation in the sector.
These firms aside, barely any companies in Europe are reporting, and in the US, investment banks Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns are the only two of note addressing investors.
Instead, the focus from now on in both London and New York will be on the flurry of updates from the retail sector that flood the market every January. So far, the omens have not been good. One-day "flash" sales and heavy discounting have dominated the high street as stores attempt to lure customers, while figures have also shown a record boom in internet shopping. However, official data last week showed a surprise 0.6 per cent rise in retail sales in November.
So the festive updates in January will come under intense scrutiny. Dhaval Joshi, global strategist at SG Securities, says: "They are important because, in the UK and US, the consumer is the mainstay of the economy. So much of the retail sector's business comes at this time of year, and it can really make or break annual sales."
Interest rates went up during 2005 as the Bank of England sought to rein in excess spending and debt levels. "We're going to see if the rises have worked. If they have, in a way we can expect bad news," adds Mr Joshi.
It is not just investors in retail who will be examining the updates. The City often talks of "the January effect," where the tone set in the first month continues throughout the year.
Not everyone is downcast. Richard Grainger, chief executive of Close Brothers Corporate Finance, says: "The FTSE has been bouncing all over the place and the market is still quite fragile. I believe there are two ways it could go next year. The retail sector is not so great: consumers are not going to spend and this will affect earnings. On the plus side, financial institutions are overweight in cash and, because of the sheer weight of money, they need to get into equities. So long as there isn't a 9/11-type shock, I am erring on the positive side."
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