Shares: Week Ahead: Festive cheer kicks in early as brewers line up to report results

The corks will be popping this week as the festive season begins in earnest and three of the big drinks companies report their results.

First off the block is Scottish & Newcastle, which has scheduled interim figures today. Two factors could give S&N shareholders a hangover, though, despite a healthy increase in profits from pounds 198m last year to between pounds 210m and pounds 225m this time round.

The first uncertainty centres on S&N's supply deal with Inntrepreneur. The contract, which sees S&N supplying all Inntrepreneur's beer, or around 1 million barrels a year, goes out to tender in March 1998. The second potential downside is the havoc the strong pound has been wreaking on S&N's Center Parcs leisure division. Although observers have suggested the sale of the division could raise pounds 1bn, S&N has strenuously denied it is considering such an option.

Drinks pundits would love to toast Bass as it splashes out on a big acquisition. The company has been thwarted in its expansion attempts. Its planned purchase of Carlsberg-Tetley was blocked by the Department of Trade and Industry and Nomura beat Bass to the William Hill betting shops.

So analysts expect to see some success on the acquisition front soon, and believe that Bass is far more likely to spend its war-chest on a shopping spree than on buying back shares. Disposals are probably more likely to be announced than acquisitions, though, when Bass reports its full-year results on Wednesday. Forecasts for pre-tax profits range from pounds 720m to pounds 735m, against pounds 674m last year.

Grand Metropolitan takes a final bow when it reports full-year results on Thursday, its last as an independent company before it gets swallowed up by Guinness to form Diageo. Expectations for pre-exceptional pre-tax profits range from pounds 970m to pounds 990m, against pounds 965m.

Carlton Communications reports full-year figures on Wednesday. Shares in the broadcasting group have had a bumpy ride since it won the right to transmit digital terrestrial television services in the summer.

The City has been worried about the risks associated with setting up digital, and will be looking for reassurance the day after tomorrow.

British Digital Broadcasting, Carlton's digital TV joint venture with Granada, has not yet been formally granted a licence, as the European Commission is still looking over the regulatory issues. Carlton would assuage the market's fears if it could give news of progress here, or any hints of changes the European competition authorities may impose as a condition of granting the licence. A large chunk of the presentation to the City will focus on digital plans.

A promise that BDB will have its services up and running by autumn 1998 would help Carlton's share price. But many believe that, with the delay in Brussels, launching next year would be impossible as the set-top boxes which unscramble the digital signals will not be ready.

Many analysts are hoping Carlton will announce a share buy-back, although others feel excess cash would be better spent on digital projects. Panmure Gordon estimates that the group will have pounds 40m in cash by the year end. The market is looking for full-year pre-tax profits between pounds 324.5m and pounds 338m, compared to pounds 295.7m last year.

Most of the other media stocks reporting this week are radio companies. GWR Group, owner of Classic FM, reveals its interims on Wednesday, providing an opportunity for the City to quiz it about its biggest shareholder, DMG Radio. News emerged at the beginning of November that DMG, which is owned by the Daily Mail & General Trust, was considering selling its 19 per cent stake, just months after Capital Radio sold its 13 per cent share of the group. If DMG sold, it would put GWR into play. Analysts will also want a progress report on GWR's plans for digital radio. The house broker predicts pre-tax profits of pounds 14.1m for the year to the end of March 1998, but there were no interim forecasts available. Chrysalis Group and Scottish Radio Holdings also report this week.

Stagecoach will unveil interims tomorrow. The company's shares have been in sharp decline in the past week or so, precipitated by sell advice from Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. The broker said there was a risk that the three rolling stock leasing companies (roscos) would be regulated. Days later, reports suggested John Prescott, deputy prime minister, agreed with the rail regulator, John Swift, that regulation of the roscos should safeguard investment in new trains. Before one-offs, pre-tax profits of pounds 70m to pounds 76.4m are anticipated, compared with pounds 35.5m in the previous period.

Great Universal Stores, Courts and Heal's form the retailing interest next week. Pre-tax interim profits for GUS are likely to come in at up to pounds 243m, against pounds 226.7m; Courts will probably report interim pre-tax profits of around pounds 9.1m, dipping from pounds 9.6m; and maiden full-year pre- tax profits for Heal's are expected to reach pounds 2m to pounds 2.2m.

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