The Week Ahead: Who can the high street count on if it can't count on Next?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's little the high street can rely on these days. The weather, consumers, trends - all utterly unpredictable. The one dependable used to be Next, home to consistently healthy sales and profits. But now it too is finding the going tough.

Next posts final figures on Thursday, with pre-tax profits likely to have risen to £422m. But there are concerns that current trading has suffered due to a resurgent Marks & Spencer.

"Recent data shows that Next appears to be losing momentum against M&S and Tesco," said Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Chamberlain. "We think this is owing to a combination of better ranges at M&S and M&S becoming more price competitive."

Morgan Stanley argued that sales could be down as much as 10 per cent at Next.

Another retailer up against it is Kingfisher. The B&Q owner has suffered because of aggressive competitors and a weak market, while its chief executive, Gerry Murphy, and the head of B&Q, Ian Cheshire, have come under fire from shareholders.

So the City will want to hear how Mr Cheshire's plans for turning the chain round are faring when the group posts full-year numbers on Tuesday. Older stores are being sold off, larger ones downsized and new ranges introduced, yet few expect any imminent upturn: "Even the most optimistically disposed will find it hard to find positive signs in Kingfisher's full-year results," noted Charles Stanley's Simon Proctor.

The group is expected to post £440m in pre-tax profit, according to a consensus of 16 analysts, one-third less than the £661m it earnt the year before. Deutsche Bank cut its recommendation to "sell" last Friday.

The raft of retail results, which also includes Ted Baker's annual numbers on Wednesday, Wm Morrison on Thursday and House of Fraser on Friday, coincides with the Government's release of the consumer price index for February. James Knightley, an economist at ING, expects the CPI to hold steady at around 1.29 per cent. But the combination of a modest retail rebound last month, higher unemployment and discouraging data from the British Retail Consortium - prices dropped for the fifth straight month in February - paints a fairly bleak picture for the high street.

"The trend is still fairly soft," said Mr Knightley. "Consumer spending numbers are weak and purchasing power isn't really there. There is less money in each household to spend."

Kesa Electricals is another beleaguered retailer that will be expected to give a clearer idea on its way forward after it rejected a £1.7bn buyout offer from a group of private equity firms last week. Williams de Broë expects the company to report £147m for the year, down from £194m last time.

Amid the gloom, Wolseley, the bathroom fixtures and plumbing company, may provide a ray of light in its Tuesday interim results. "The big issue is America,'" said Tony Shepard of Charles Stanley. Wolseley depends on US residential house- building for roughly a third of its overall turnover.

Analysts will also want an update on the progress made by the company in integrating several bolt-on acquisitions. Mr Shepard expects it to report a £364m pre-tax profit, against £309m the year before.

Life insurer Friends Provident, and F&C Asset Management, the fund manager in which it holds 51 per cent, hope to show that acquisitions completed over the past year are beginning to bear fruit. Williams de Broë expects Friends Provident to post a pre-tax profit of £544m as Lombard International, the life company it acquired last year, adds a big chunk of new business.

F&C, on the other hand, hopes to inch back into profit. Last year the company posted a £19.4m net loss due to costs related to its merger with Isis. Fears persist in the City, however, that the company may unveil another writedown.

And what would a week in the markets be nowadays without at least one company cashing in on the global commodity boom? Weir, the Glaswegian maker of industrial pumps, which derives half of its turnover from the oil, gas and minerals markets, is expected to publish numbers reflecting the continued strength of those industries.


Tomorrow 20

UK RESULTS: (final) Abbot, Collins Stewart Tullett, Enterprise, Forth Ports, Lookers, Michelmarsh Brick, Regus, Titan Europe, Vindon Healthcare, WIN; (interim) Aero Inventory

Tuesday 21

UK RESULTS: (F) Celoxica, Colliers CRE, Cyan, Derwent Valley, Dignity, Entertainment Rights, Hardy Oil & Gas, John Menzies, Kingfisher, Property Recycling, Punch Graphix, RAB Capital, ROK Property Solutions, TV Commerce, Wellington Underwriting, Weir; (I) Wolseley

Wednesday 22

UK RESULTS: (F) Alkane Energy, Evolution, F&C Management, Hardy Underwriting, Huntleigh Technology, IQE, Kesa Electricals, Omega International, Slough Estates, Ted Baker

Thursday 23

UK RESULTS: (F) Augean, Capital & Regional, Churchill China, Friends Provident, KBC Advanced Technologies, Next, Premier Oil, Prostrakan, ServicePower Technologies, SmartFocus, Songbird Estates, Wm Morrison Supermarkets; (I) Carnival, Primary Health

Friday 24

UK RESULTS: (F) House of Fraser, Northern Racing, Robinson, SPI Lasers