Half-time figures should see United at the top of the City's league

STOCK MARKET WEEK
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Although the stock market's love affair with professional football has lost some of its intensity most of the quoted clubs still enjoy the sort of glamour appeal which is the envy of more mundane but often more successful companies.

Tottenham Hotspur was the first club to brave the rigours of the market. It appeared in 1983 and for years its shares were firmly in the relegation zone. The arrival of Alan Sugar produced a more businesslike approach and with the City suddenly appreciating the wonders of football, Spurs has enjoyed a remarkable run in the market, if not on the pitch, over the past three years.

Manchester Utd, reporting half-time figures today, joined up in 1991 and after a quiet start also achieved a strong investment fan club, scoring handsome gains for its shareholder followers.

Today more than a dozen clubs grace the market, ranging from premiership giants to second division hopeful, little Preston North End. Other clubs are on their way. Bolton Wanderers is being transferred to Mosaic, a former printing inks business, now a shell vehicle for entrepreneur David Williams, and Aston Villa should arrive in the close season.

At the time of the Spurs and United flotations a club's investment appeal related mainly to the value of its stadium. Such a measurement was largely replaced when Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB started pouring millions of pounds into the game to obtain television coverage.

Clubs, big and small, have also become more conscious of their money- making ability, cashing in on a vast array of services, credit cards to insurance, and the sale of items from replica kits to badged bottles of wine.

Many clubs are also drawing more income from spectators and there is always the prospect of one of the giants, such as United, starting its own television channel.

Whatever its television ambitions this is an important week for the Manchester club. Besides kicking off on the financial front today it has a vital European Cup fixture on Wednesday. An outstanding display on the field could make a big contribution to the year's results; in the meantime the half-time figures should be top-of-the-league stuff.

Bruce Jones and Roy Owens at investment house Merrill Lynch are looking for profits of pounds 15.5m before tax and transfer fees. Last year on a similar basis the club produced pounds 8.9m. Around pounds 28.5m is in sight for the year although a successful Euro Cup run could lift revenue.

Together with the rest of the market's football league United and Spurs have lost some of their glitter in the past few months as fears have arisen that football shares may have run ahead of the game.

The rerating has also been fuelled by doubts about the earnings capacity of some of the new arrivals. Sheffield Utd, Southern Leisure ( Southampton) and Sunderland have suffered sharp falls from their peaks; Newcastle Utd's debut was, to say the least, restrained and poor old Charlton Athletic of the first division encountered what, in effect, was the market's sliding tackle.

If United provides the sporting appeal this week then Tesco offers the heavyweight contribution which will be meat and drink to the investment community.

It has been an outstanding year for the superstore behemoth; besides outscoring deadly rival J Sainsbury it has become deeply involved in a range of financial services and then barged into banking. Last month it swept into Ireland, splashing out pounds 600m for the country's largest food retailer, Quinnsworth.

The banking and Irish adventures will not have any impact on the figures due to be announced tomorrow. They cover a February end year. Even so, the market is clearly ready for some impressive numbers, with Tesco shares enjoying a 10 per cent premium to the food retailing sector. Around pounds 750m, perhaps a few million more, is expected against last time's pounds 680.7m.

Highland Distilleries, also on Tuesday, provides the week's alcoholic content. Its interim figures should offer clues how the integration of Macallan, the up-market malt whisky distiller swallowed after a hostile bid last year, is going.

The group, which has close corporate and trading links with the French Remy Cointreau drinks group, will certainly have suffered from the strength of sterling. NatWest Securities is looking for profits of pounds 26m against pounds 22.2m and believes the figures should mark a turning point for the shares which have underperformed for the past two years.

RJB Mining is another with a profits appointment tomorrow. In December the company's stockbroker, BZW, sent the shares crashing 23 per cent in a day to 372.5p when it lowered it profits forecast to pounds 185m. The shares ended last week at 355p.

The broker was worried about the impact of cheap overseas imports on what has become Britain's King Coal, the successor to the old National Coal Board. BZW was also tough on the current year's estimate, cutting from pounds 232m to pounds 192m.

Others reporting this week include Burmah Castrol, Tarmac, Smiths Industries and RMC.

Burmah looks set to produce around pounds 143m, up from pounds 135m. Smiths Industries is likely to record a 15 per cent gain to pounds 80m with the group firing on its aerospace and medical cylinders.

But building material groups Tarmac and RMC are, like so many in the industry, set to suffer profit falls.

Tarmac should be down around 38 per cent to pounds 60m with demand for aggregates in this country improving in the second six months and, to some extent, cushioning the setback.

RMC could be nearly 20 per cent lower at pounds 265m. Domestic profits should have been fairly robust but poor demand in Germany and currency considerations may have taken their toll. Still RMC, unlike Tarmac, should offer a modestly improved return for shareholders. It is expected to lift its dividend 4 per cent to 26.25p while Tarmac's payment will stay at 5.5p.

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