The Week Ahead: Diageo's spirit can see off chill winds from US

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The Independent Online

Diageo, the drinks giant behind some of the most iconic brands in the business, including Johnnie Walker whisky, Guinness and Baileys Irish cream, is due to publish its first-half results on Thursday. It has been a busy couple of weeks for the company: soon after swallowing Californian wine maker Rosenblum Cellars for $105m (£53m), Diageo paid $900m for half of Ketel One, the Netherlands-based premium vodka brand. Ketel, which sells more than half of its 1.9 million 12-bottle cases in the United States, will sit well beside the company's current collection of mass market and premium vodka.

The US is Diageo's larg-est source of profit, contributing around 40 per cent to the company's annual bounty, and Ketel will help bolster the company's arsenal at a time of growing economic uncertainty. Many in the market remain suspicious of US-dependent businesses. While fears of a US recession are all-pervading, also weakening sentiment toward businesses which operate elsewhere in the world, the first ghouls will besiege those with direct exposure to the American consumer.

Analysts at Cazenove are more optimistic. They counsel caution, but warn ag-ainst disproportionate concern, adding "the US spirits market is relatively resilient to an economic downturn due to the underlying secular growth in demand". US demographics (large numbers of young Americans entering the drinking age) and culture (an increased demand for high-end brand spirits) are working in the company's favour and, as Cazenove points out, only a "deep recession would provoke an actual fall" in the company's volumes. Look out for the company's take on the future on Thursday.

TODAY: Results/Updates: Albemarle & Bond Holdings.

TOMORROW: The Bristol-based independent financial adviser and fund manager Hargreaves Lansdown will release interims. With the FTSE 100 down by more than 10 per cent since the start of the year and the latest unit trust industry statistics showing net outflows of £0.3bn in November, at first glance the company, which floated in May 2007, might appear to be in a spot of bother. However, by enticing new clients with its Vantage platform, Hargreaves Lansdown has already proved its resilience. The main features in tomorrow's results, therefore, are client recruitment figures and Vantage growth. If both prove strong, expect renewed buying interest.

Results/Updates: Hargreaves Lansdown.

WEDNESDAY: The energy giant British Energy will report its nine-month results. Deutsche Bank analysts forecast earnings to be down on last year at £741m from £775m, with total output marginally up at 45.7 tera-watt hours from 44.0TWH last year. The Livingston-based group runs eight power stations but has recently been suffering from cracks in boilers and other aging related problems. Back in October it was forced to shut down reactors at Hartlepool and Heysham 1.

While these closures are set to have a negative effect on the company's third-quarter results, output at other plants has shown significant improvement, push-ing the nuclear output marginally above that of last year. The company has identified the required engineering modifications and plans to return both the Hartlepool and Heysham 1 power stations to full service this year. Further details regarding the return to service will be announ-ced on Wednesday.

The real estate investment trust Liberty International, which suffered after HSBC's damning sector-wide downgrades last week, is due to report its full-year 2007 preliminary results. Consensus analyst forecasts anticipate an 11 per cent rise in earnings per share, to 37.5p. Bradford & Bingley will also publish its 2007 preliminary results. Analysts will be particularly concerned with B&B's lending volumes, margins and capital management. Pre-tax profits are forecast to rise by 30 per cent to £322m.

Finally on Wednesday, mining giant Rio Tinto will publish its 2007 results. After Chinalco's audacious bid to block BHP Billiton's takeover of the company, Rio has dominated the news over the last few weeks. As we wait to see how the saga unfolds, consensus estimates peg underlying net earnings to come in at $7.1bn.

Results/Updates: British Energy, Rio Tinto, Liberty International, Reckitt Benck-iser, Bradford & Bingley.

THURSDAY: Results/Updates: Diageo, Savile Holdings.

FRIDAY: Go-Ahead Group is to announce its half-year interims. It is expected to announce revenue of £1.02bn – an increase of 11.5 per cent from last year – and an operating profit of £63m – 14 per cent up on last year. Go-Ahead's share price has underperformed in its sector over the last couple of months. Analysts at Morgan Stanley say this is likely to be due to the pricing in of operational difficulties at Aviance and West Midlands Bus, as well as the potential loss of the Southern franchise in 2009.

Results/Updates: Go-Ahead Group.