The Week Ahead: Vodafone chief's big call over AT&T

For Vodafone's Arun Sarin, this week is likely to prove a memorable one. In his first big test as chief executive, Mr Sarin - who only recently replaced the highly regarded Sir Christopher Gent - must by Friday decide whether to bid for AT&T Wireless.

The US market is one of the few gaps in Vodafone's sprawling global mobile empire as it has only a 45 per cent stake in operator Verizon Wireless. Relations between Vodafone and the US firm's largest shareholder, Verizon Communications, are said to be good, but Vodafone is desperate to gain a controlling stake in a US mobile operator.

It would have to put at least $30bn (£15bn) on the table for AT&T and this would still be no guarantee of success. Other companies angling for the business include Cingular, the US number two mobile operator, and NTT DoCoMo of Japan. Mr Sarin also risks upsetting his shareholders, as some are keen to see the company conserve cash by focusing on growing its existing businesses.

The mobile phone group is not the only heavyweight point of interest this week; an array of stalwarts, both in the UK and mainland Europe, will be vying for attention.

At home, oil giant BP will be following in Shell's footsteps when it reports fourth-quarter figures. Yet while Shell, which reported last week, wrangles with investors over its corporate structure, choice of chief executive and reserve levels, BP is predicted to produce net income of $3.2bn - a 22 per cent hike quarter on quarter. A strong operating environment, high oil prices and the inclusion of Russian partner TNK will have bolstered the numbers.

Another of Britain's global titans, GlaxoSmithKline, is also reporting. The full-year numbers are expected to be dented by the weakness of the dollar, although the strength of the euro should offset some of this. As usual, generic competition will be the order of the day; the City will be particularly interested to see how cheaper rivals to the antidepressant Paxil are hitting home.

Oil, drugs and banking are the three most important sectors in the FTSE 100 and representing the last of these is Barclays. The group gave a detailed pre-close trading update in December, pre- dicting final pre-tax profits would be up more than 15 per cent, boosted by increased lending and a smaller provision for bad loans. Analysts have no reason to believe anything has changed since.

Elsewhere, BA's woes have been well documented. Although third-quarter traffic numbers rose by a healthy 5.3 per cent, chief executive Rod Eddington warned that repeated security alerts could hit forward bookings. Further cost savings have already been outlined and the City will be hoping for more details at the third-quarter results tomorrow.

Household products will be in the news, with results from Reckitt Benckiser - home to Resolve, Vanish and French's mustard - and Unilever. Last year, Reckitt Benckiser was the model of solid growth. Unilever, by contrast, used to be but spent most of 2003 upsetting the City with below-target sales.

Diet food Slim Fast was a particularly sticky point, hit as it has been by the trend for low-carb dieting. So on Thursday, when Unilever produces full-year results, the City will be paying attention to Slim Fast and Unilever's attempts to turn it around. More significant than that, however, will be Unilever's plans for the future. Path to Growth, the vast, five-year overhaul of its brand portfolio, finishes at the end of this year and already the City is beginning to wonder what will happen next.

Other highlights will be results from telecoms giant BT, pay-TV firm BSkyB, gas group Centrica and Rolls-Royce, and a trading statement from pubs business Mitchells & Butlers. Overseas, luxury goods specialist Hermes, dairy business Danone and defence contractor Thales are all scheduled to report.

With all that corporate news to digest, most would be forgiven for not bothering with economic news. That would be an oversight, however. The main topic of conversation is likely to be the outcome of this weekend's G7 meeting and how, if at all, it will determine the direction of the big currencies.

Stateside, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's semi-annual testimonies to the House and Senate will be of most interest, while back at home, data includes the Land Registry House Price survey, an update from the British Retail Consortium, unemployment numbers and the Bank of England's inflation report. Which, in a nutshell, means that any one hankering after a quiet week is going to be sorely disappointed.

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