The Week Ahead: Watchdog writes last chapter in tragedy of BP's Texas inferno

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On Tuesday, America's safety watchdog, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, will publish its final report into the fire at BP's Texas refinery two years ago, which killed 15 workers. It is expected to detail the role that budget considerations played in causing the fire.

These findings follow an independent report earlier this year, compiled by the former US Secretary of State James Baker, which heavily criticised BP's management.

When Gordon Brown unveils his Budget this week, it will surely be his swansong as Chancellor. Economists expect it to be a largely rosy affair, with Mr Brown reporting strong economic growth above consensus expectations, while debt remains below 40 per cent of GDP - in line with the views he outlined in the pre-Budget report.

If all this happens, it will cement an uninterrupted run under his leadership of the economy in which the "golden Rule" - that public spending should remain neutral over the economic cycle - has stayed intact. Yet observers say that with public spending rising and growth expectations that may prove optimistic, it will be hard for Mr Brown's successor to keep that record going.

Against this backdrop, the City has another busy week of results, though few blue chips will be wheeling out numbers.

Top of the list is Standard Life, which will provide its first annual results since it demutualised last year. Analysts expect the life and pensions company to report strong numbers on Thursday. "On the back of its listing prospectus, there shouldn't be any shocks," said Roman Cizdyn of Oriel Securities.

One factor that will be closely watched will be lapses in contributions to pension funds. At the half year, the company said the surrendering of schemes was running at £100m, but that the rate may have accelerated.

Friends Provident's results will comprise two stories. The life and pensions group has already said growth over the year was strong, with new business increasing 31 per cent to £7.07bn compared to the year before. Dragging it down, however, is its fund management subsidiary F&C Asset Management, which has disappointed recently and suffered a major outflow of assets under management.

Bluebay Asset Management, on the other hand, is expected to report a net increase in its asset base. The fixed-income funds manager floated late last year to allow Barclays to exit and Shinsei Bank to reduce its stake. Bluebay's half-year numbers on Tuesday will be its first as a public company.

On the retail front, investors are hoping Next will make good on buoyant expectations when it unveils its annual performance on Thursday. Analysts at UBS and Goldman Sachs recently increased their ratings of the company on expectations of improved same-store sales and the possibility of more share buybacks. Stockbroker Charles Stanley is less sure. Sam Hart, an analyst at the firm, said in a note that he expected the company's same-store sales to worsen. "It is probably some combination of aggressive space expansion from other retailers, a resurgent [Marks & Spencer], tired stores, a perception that the offer has become 'boring' and limited market expenditure," he said. He expects pre-tax profit to come in at £470m, ahead of the £449m the year before.

Consensus expectations for Kesa Electricals, owner of the Comet retail chain, are for £168m in annual pre-tax profits - a little better than the £143m in 2005. Of particular interest to the Square Mile, however, will be chairman David Newlands' outlook for the year ahead, which most analysts reckon will fall short relative to 2006 when the World Cup drove sales of flat-screen televisions.

For Wolseley, the seller of plumbing fixtures, the recent ructions in the US housing market have hurt. When it gives first- half numbers tomorrow, pre-tax profit is expected to have dropped. Investors will be keen for encouragement from the company but the near-term future in the US, where the setbacks in the housing and subprime mortgage markets seem to be accelerating, looks bleak.

Keith Butler-Wheelhouse, chief executive of Smiths Group, will have plenty to discuss in the company's half-year results on Wednesday. The conglomerate is in the process of reshaping itself after selling its aerospace business for $4.8bn (£2.5bn) to GE in January. Smiths Group has already pledged to give $2.1bn of the proceeds to shareholders and is expected to churn much of the rest into the medical and engineering businesses that remain.


Tomorrow 19

UK RESULTS: (final) Abbot, Burren Energy, Chaucer, Concurrent Technologies, Forth Ports, Gatekeeper Systems, Staffline Recruitment, Trafficmaster, UTV; (interim) Kier, Synairgen, Wolseley

Tuesday 20

UK RESULTS: (F) Acta, Cello, Derwent London, Friends Provident, H&T, Hochschild, Intercytex, JKX Oil & Gas, Mobile Streams, Morson, Osmotech; (I) Bluebay Asset Management, Careforce, ChoiceUK, Helphire

Wednesday 21

UK RESULTS: (F) Adventis, Alkane, Autoclenz, Bond International Software, Boot (Henry) Cape, Capital & Regional, Celoxica, Huntsworth, Hutchison China Meditech, Kesa Electricals, Metalrax, Stanelco, Ted Baker, Weir; (I) Ascribe, Smiths

Thursday 22

UK RESULTS: (F) Churchill China, Dignity, EG Solutions, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, M&C Saatchi, Next, Premier Oil, RAB Capital, Standard Life, Tikrit

Friday 23

UK RESULTS: (F) Charles Taylor Consulting, Limia Investment, Inspico, Johnson Service, Robinson; (I) GSH