City: Talk of upturn has a hollow ring

RETURNING from the summer holidays to the interim results season this year is turning out to be a little like stepping from a warm bed into a cold shower.

If you only paid attention to the profit figures on the press releases, you would probably emerge at the end of this week with a fairly upbeat view of industry's chances. You might even start buying shares. Don't do it. There is more to the story than that.

The interim results announced by a spate of major companies this month show, for the most part, a modest increase in earnings. Hillsdown, P&O, Prudential, Cadbury Schweppes and Coats Viyella will all have profits sneaking upwards. At the same time, dividends may not rise by much, but they will not be cut either. (The big exception, of course, will be the building sector, which will not only report big losses but will surely accept the dividend cuts they shirked last year.) No doubt the usual Tory politicians will proclaim that this proves the recession is over.

Unfortunately, it proves little more than that cost-cutting is having an effect. That leaves companies better able to take advantage of an economic upturn when it comes, but the doubts about a stout improvement in 1993 are already growing.

In the meantime, there is precious little evidence that underlying company performance is moving ahead again. Quite the opposite, if you listen to what the companies are actually saying. You can't get much blunter than Courtaulds Textiles last week, when it declared: 'There are no signs of improvement in trading conditions.'

It is statements like that which will focus the stock market's mind. City analysts will be forced to downgrade their full-year forecasts for many companies even after seeing slightly better half-time results. The process started last Thursday, when no fewer than five companies reported their interims, only to have analysts downgrade their year-end estimates. Even though the shares of more than a quarter of the FT-SE 100 companies are yielding over 7 per cent (the highest level since the run-up to the Gulf war, when interest rates were around 15 per cent), the market still looks as though it may have further to fall.

The joker in the pack is exchange rates. Everything depends on sterling. If, as UBS Phillips & Drew believes, the pound is destined to fall in the next few months come what may, companies with substantial overseas earnings may be the only shares worth going for. Half the FT-SE 100 company earnings come from abroad, and most of that is in dollars.

But if the Government holds the line on sterling, not even multinationals such as Unilever, Guinness, ICI and BAT will be worth going for. The dollar may take months to recover, and European markets such as Germany, which have been the saviour for many companies over the last few months, are now grinding to a halt. Cold comfort for the end of summer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administrator

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a vibrant and establishe...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests