Hopes that Carpetright can continue its roll as pundits turn bearish

STOCK MARKET WEEK

Tomorrow it will be possible to judge whether Carpetright is still on a roll. The second time around creation of Lord Harris, fund raiser for the Tories and carpet salesman extraordinary, is expected to produce another rousing profit performance.

The stock market is looking for a year's outcome near pounds 27m against the pounds 19.7m last time.

There have been fears the carpet retailing group could be a casualty of the building downturn which has hit so many retailers including the do-it-yourself sheds. But Carpetright has achieved a surprising ability to ignore such humdrum hindrances with profits making spectacular headway from pounds 2.8m in 1992.

It came to the stock market at 148p three years ago; the shares closed on Friday a little below their 624p peak.

Lord Harris, as plain Phil Harris, created the old Harris Queensway carpets and furniture operation. After a sudden profits collapse he was forced out and the company was taken over by a consortium headed, by supermarket entrepreneur Jimmy Gulliver, in a pounds 477m leveraged buy out.

But HQ, renamed Lowndes Queensway, collapsed with debts of more than pounds 200m.

Carpetright had a 116 shops chain, put together over four years, when it made its market debut. It is now nudging 250 outlets embracing the core Carpetright operation plus Premier Carpets, with concessions in other people's stores, and Carpet Depot, a superstore concept.

Although making headway, the market had another uneventful session last week; the results of the Russian election could be a significant factor this week.

The influential Schwartz stock market newsletter is becoming increasingly convinced the bull market is over. It says: "The lessons from the past now suggest even more strongly that the next big move for UK equities will be down."

Although they have lost some of their exuberance recently, an outstanding feature of the market this year has been second- and third-line shares which have generally outperformed the more illustrious blue chips.

But the newsletter, the work of David Schwartz operating from Stroud in Gloucestershire, even pours caution on the cult of the second liners.

It points out that small companies generally outscore blue chips in the opening months of a year. "But the trend soon changes for the worse. Over the last 15 years small caps significantly under-perform the big boys for the rest of the year. If 1996 continues to follow the norm, we suspect that profits from small caps in the months ahead may disappoint those hoping for above-average performance."

Richard Jeffrey at Charterhouse Tilney is still looking for progress. "In the short term there remains scope for equities to be boosted by signs of strengthening activity in the economy - so long as Wall Street manages to hold its ground.

"Further out, however, the environment for both gilts and equities is likely to become tougher."

Biggest company reporting this week is British Steel, with year's results today. Destocking and a slowdown in European industrial production has prompted many analysts to lower their expectations. Even so, the out-turn should look impressive. NatWest Securities, a long time bear of the shares, is looking for pounds 1.02bn; Panmure Gordon, another with the shares on its sell list, is on pounds 990m.

Barclays de Zoete Wedd aims for pounds 1.097bn and Societe Generale Strauss Turnbull is top of the range, shooting for pounds 1.15bn. Last year's figure was pounds 578m.

A sharp dividend increase to, say, 10p a share is looked for and there are strong hopes BS's cash hoard will prompt it into some form of distribution - a share buy back or a more shareholder friendly special dividend.

After last year's profit feast BS is set to suffer a few lean years. Current year's forecasts are around pounds 820m with pounds 360m pencilled in for next.

Airtours, with some 21 per cent of the holidays market, should indicate on Wednesday whether the sharp cutbacks it (and its rivals) made to their programmes this year have restored profits to the level the market expects.

The company, where the American Carnival Cruise group now has a near 30 per cent stake, announces first-half figures which traditionally are dipped in deep red. There are hopes it should make around pounds 75m in the year which ends in September.

The relationship between the US and US holiday groups is intriguing. Carnival is just a shade below the level which triggers a bid obligation under the takeover code. Although both sides insist they are happy with this arrangement there is a wide spread belief that in the fullness of time the Americans could move for full control.

Hazlewood Foods, due tomorrow, has been an unrewarding investment since it started its restructuring six years ago. The shares are more than half their 1990 value. Still, interim profits were higher and there are hopes it could manage pounds 33.5m. for the year. Last time the figure was pounds 32.3m but exceptional charges left the group with a wounding deficit.

Utilities continue to grace the results diary. Northern Electric is heavily geared after its distributions to shareholders following the predatory attentions of Trafalgar House which has itself since fallen to a strike, from the Norwegian Kvaerner engineering group.

Excluding any contribution from the sale of its shares in National Grid, Northern is expected to produce around pounds 130m which would represent a shortfall of about pounds 25m. But, as one expects from a utility, there should be a handsome dividend increase, from 33p to around 40p.

Hyder, the Welsh electricity and water utility, should manage pounds 130m against last year's pounds 120m with dividend generosity extending to 38p against 32.2p. Wessex Water, one of the contenders for South West Water, is likely to produce profits of pounds 134m compared with pounds 117m. Once again a mouthwatering dividend increase is possible - from 13.2p to, perhaps, 16p.

There should also be a statement from Railtrack, the latest privatisation recruit. It should merely confirm profits are around the pounds 190m signalled in the April prospectus.

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