Unilever hangs out its washing

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The Independent Online

After several weeks of minor results, the markets are finally going to be given something solid to sink their teeth into. The autumn reporting season begins in earnest this week with a wide selection of figures from the big hitters of the old economy.

After several weeks of minor results, the markets are finally going to be given something solid to sink their teeth into. The autumn reporting season begins in earnest this week with a wide selection of figures from the big hitters of the old economy.

And they don't get much bigger or older economy than consumer products titan Unilever. What adds spice to this particular set of results is that, earlier in the week, Wall Street will have heard the third-quarter figures of deadly rival Procter & Gamble. With these two, it tends to be the case that if one has done well, the other has suffered.

According to the analysts, Unilever should shade it on this set of results. Although the actual product overlap of the two companies is only about 25 per cent of their full product ranges, they devote most of their energies to the battle between Unilever's Persil and P&G's Ariel. Especially hard-fought has been the lucrative South American market, where the pair spent the first part of the year knocking 10 bells out of each other in a price war. Now that battle has subsided, analysts will be eager to see how Unilever's volumes have been affected.

The City will also press Unilever on its "path to growth" strategy of streamlining its brands. One area of such activity has been its ice cream division. By simply looking out of the window, most analysts are concluding that this will have been a disappointing summer.

BAA should also have an interesting story to tell investors. The demise of duty free in Europe hit operations hard enough for the group to issue a profit warning several months ago. But, say analysts at Merrill Lynch, the picture has probably improved since then. The airport operator has spent time and money clearing up customers' confusion over what bargains they are entitled to - an exercise which is expected to have put sales back on track. On Friday, traders were buying the stock on that very assumption.

British American Tobacco shares have had a decent run of late, and the nine-month results are likely to contribute to the positive sentiment. The US litigation environment is looking increasingly benign, and fears of advertising bans have subsided. What the City will have its eyes peeled for, however, is how BAT's US subsidiary, Brown & Williamson, is faring. It is currently battling for a change in the law to allow sales by post which, if successful, would lead to mouth-watering savings in distribution costs.

Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham both report nine month results on Tuesday. If their merger goes according to plan, these should be the last results announced separately. Both are expected to have grown their sales, although, as usual, most questions will focus on the product pipeline.

Representing the new economy will be BSkyB: its revenue figures will play second-fiddle to the traditional market focus on subscriber numbers. These are expected to be up by over 200,000, taking the total to 4.75 million and on track to meet its target of five million by the end of the calendar year.

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