The Week Ahead: The bonuses were dizzy and property prices are giddy

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The Independent Online

With drunken memories of bonus week fading and Christmas approaching, the markets start winding down this week.

City workers were out partying in force last week after record bonus payouts from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, and plenty more empty champagne bottles are sure to litter the floors of bars this week, as most celebrate the year just gone rather than focusing on the work at hand. Just a handful of companies will be reporting.

With Carnival the only blue-chip giving results this week, the housing market will again get plenty of play when the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) publishes its house-price survey on Tuesday. Despite a small seasonal drop in October, house values are still growing annually at levels not seen since 2003, and economists expect the Rics survey to bear that out. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw another rise in November," said Philip Shaw, the chief economist at Investec.

The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee also reveals minutes from its most recent meeting on Wednesday. Most observers expect the Bank to have had a unanimous vote on the decision to keep interest rates steady at 5 per cent this month.

Analysts will also dig through the minutes for any indication of what the Bank may be thinking in terms of rates in the new year. This will hinge on the Bank's views of the influence of immigrants on the labour market, and the extent to which the growing pool of workers is dampening inflationary pressures.

Looking further afield, some key US data will come out that could have implications for Britain. Fears that a slowdown in the US housing market could drag the American and global economies down are simmering. So the National Association of Home Builders survey, to be published tomorrow, will be scrutinised by the world's economists.

"The US housing market is going to be fairly critical to the economy and the direction of American interest rates next year. It's an important one," said Mr Shaw. "The US is still the single-biggest economy in the world, so what it does gives the global economy direction."

Persimmon, the UK's largest homebuilder, will give the City an indication of what its full-year results will look like when it provides a trading update on Thursday. HBOS and Alliance & Leicester both posted strong results last week, on the back of surging mortgage loans, so Persimmon is expected to give a similarly jolly outlook for the housing sector.

"We expect it to be a very upbeat update. It should set the stage for a good full-year performance," said one analyst.

City watchers will also seek more detail on the progress of the company's integration of Westbury, the builder it bought a year ago. Traditionally, the company has been a consolidator, yet its name has been absent from recent speculation, including the rumours that Wilson Bowden could be bought by a number of rivals including Barratt Developments and George Wimpey.

Eyes will also be on the latter, which supplies a trading update the day before. If Wilson Bowden does get snapped up, it would threaten Persimmon's perch as the UK's largest house- builder. Both potential buyers will be asked to provide some clarity on the merger gossip.

Advertising agency Aegis, which is fighting off the advances of Vincent Bolloré, the chairman of rival Havas, will also provide a trading update on Wednesday. The company's shareholders rejected attempts by Mr Bolloré, its largest investor, to install two members on Aegis's board last month. Analysts will want an update on that situation.

Elsewhere, analysts are hoping that coach company National Express will match the stellar performance of competitor Stagecoach, revealed earlier this month, when it updates on trading on Monday.

And finally, Ardana, the Edinburgh-based biotechnology company working on the development of a treatment for enlarged prostates, is expected to post another loss when it unveils its interim numbers on Tuesday. Like most biotechs, it has had a topsy-turvy year, and investors will be desperate for some promising news on its drug development programme.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 18

UK RESULTS: Coe, Wichford; (interim) Ardana, Photo-Me International, Total Systems

Tuesday 19

UK RESULTS: None scheduled

Wednesday 20

UK RESULTS: (I) Park

Thursday 21

UK RESULTS: (F) Carnival

Friday 22

UK RESULTS: (I) Sirius Exploration

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