The week ahead: Why the Square Mile will need some bar-room philosophers

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The Independent Online

Summer may be limping to its damp finish, but at least the City is waking up from the doldrums. The news flow cranks up a gear, with some well-known names talking to the City.

The sector likely to garner the most coverage is drinks, with the UK's two biggest players, Diageo and Allied Domecq, addressing the market.

Diageo, the owner of Smirnoff and Guinness, posts full-year results on Thursday. The group gave a detailed update at the July trading announcement so analysts are not bracing themselves for any shocks.

Then, Diageo reported organic sales growth of 6 per cent but warned that earnings per share for the full year would be down around 2 per cent, dented by higher marketing and pension costs as well as restructuring expenses and currency movements. But the City will still have questions it will want answered. An upbeat forecast for US trading in the coming months will be welcome, as will an update on Guinness, which continues to suffer declining sales in Ireland and the UK. Reassurance on the margin performance will also be sought.

Allied Domecq provides an updates on trading the following day. Currency issues are likely to remain a problem as it earns a significant chunk of its profits in the US, but otherwise trading in America is strong, with the UK business outperforming many of its rivals.

The wine division, which boasts Perrier Jouët champagne and Clos du Bois, is another strong area, as is its food arm, which includes Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins ice-cream.

It faces some darker spots - notably in Mexico, Korea and continental Europe - where trading is tougher, but overall the picture is likely to be good.

From the companies that make the drinks to the places where you consume them, pub chain JD Wetherspoon and hotels and restaurant business Whitbread are also addressing the market. The latter's trading statement will comment on all areas of the business, from its Marriott and Travel Inn hotels to Brewers Fayre diners and David Lloyd Leisure health clubs. But it will be news on budget hotel Premier Lodge, acquired last month, that will be off most interest.

Fortunes have been flat at JD Wetherspoon, which last month warned that annual pre-tax profits would not meet forecasts because of slower sales growth, despite the traditional boost of a football tournament. The shares have been on a downward path ever since.

What analysts need to know is what happens now. The chatter is that, as a cash-generative stock, it might tempt a private equity buyer or even the management to delist.

The City will want a clear indication of what the next few months hold at the final figures, when pre-tax profits are predicted to fall from £56.1m to around £54.5m. The current controversy surrounding binge drinking and drunken behaviour in city centres is also likely to figure.

Finishing off the leisure line-up is Rank, the owner of Mecca bingo halls, Grosvenor Casinos and the Hard Rock Café chain. The group's shares have been enjoying some fine form of late on suggestions that a break-up might be in the offing. The only thing to have taken the edge off this is the forthcoming Gambling Bill.

The City is keen to establish what role Rank can play in a deregulated environment and not everyone is convinced that the company is a guaranteed winner, particularly against stiff competition from experienced overseas players eager to get a slice of the action.

Pre-tax profits are expected to come in at £65.2m, down on last year's £77.4m, following some big wins at the casinos and declining bingo admissions.

Elsewhere, companies scheduled to report include computer services business LogicaCMG and Associated British Ports, where pre-tax interim profits are expected to nudge up to £61.5m, helped by new contract wins and cost cutting.

Further afield, a range of companies are reporting. These include pharmaceutical giants Bayer and Sanofi-Synthelabo, French retailer Carrefour and cosmetics business L'Oréal, the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, and Euronext, the Dutch owner of the London International Financial Futures Exchange.

L'Oréal is likely to please shareholders will further details of market share gains in the global personal-care industry, while its performance in North America and the emerging markets will help offset weaker trading in western Europe.

But Sanofi-Synthelabo, which recently won its battle for control of rival Aventis, is likely to leave investors wanting more. Details on integration prospects are not expected to be forthcoming until later in the autumn.

CALENDAR

Tomorrow 30

UK: Results: Bank holiday, none scheduled.

Tuesday 31

UK: Results: (final) Brambles Industries, Dicom, Home Entertainment Corp; (interim) 1st Dental Laboratories, Ark Therapeutics, Bunzl, Churchill China, John Laing, Metal Bulletin.

Wednesday 1

UK: Results: (F) Morse; (I) Arena Leisure, Associated British Ports, Brammer, Costain, LogicaCMG, Oxford Biomedica, Savills, Serco, Signet, Tarsus.

Thursday 2

UK: Results: (F) Diageo; (I) Amec, Antofagasta, Avis Europe, Axis-Shield, BBA, Biotrace International, Delta, Floors 2 Go, Heywood Williams, Hydro International, Marlborough Stirling, Molins, NETeller, RMC, Tikit, Wembley.

Friday 3

UK: Results: (F) Go-Ahead, JD Wetherspoon; (I) NSB Retail Systems, Rank.

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