The Week Ahead: M&S and Next to deliver Christmas verdict

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The first major indicators of the festive trading period will come when the high-street bellwether Marks & Spencer and the fashion chain Next both post results on Wednesday.

Despite the poor weather, many large retailers are thought to have enjoyed robust trading, which has continued in the post-Christmas period.

An upbeat statement from M&S for the third quarter is likely to boost other retail shares, though an over-cautious update could have the opposite effect.

With M&S, the City will be focused on its underlying UK sales, guidance on gross margins – the difference between the price at which a retailer buys stock and the price it sells it for – and any update on when Marc Bolland, the outgoing chief executive of Morrisons, will take over the same role at the clothing and food giant from Sir Stuart Rose, its chairman. Sources close to M&S are confident he will join in the first half of 2010.

In early November, M&S delivered negative UK half-year like-for-like sales in its food and general merchandise division, primarily clothing, but on an improved curve. UK food sales were marginally down by 0.3 per cent, while general merchandise was lower by 1.4 per cent for the 26 weeks to 26 September 2009.

At its half-year results, M&S said its full-year 2009/10 UK gross margin would be down by between 50 and 100 basis points, an improvement on previous guidance issued earlier in the year.

In November, Sir Stuart said: "We have had a good start to the third quarter. However, the market remains competitive and we remain cautious about the outlook for Christmas and the year ahead."

Meanwhile, rival Next will issue a sales update for the period from the end of July to 24 December. In November, Next fashioned better-than-expected retail underlying sales down by 1.3 per cent for the third quarter to 31 October.

The clothing and homewares chain said if it achieved revised second-half guidance of sales no worse than 3 per cent down, the market consensus for full-year pre-tax profits would be up by about £30m to £472m. Including the November statement, Next upgraded its forecast four times in six months in 2009.

Today: Results/updates: IFG Group, Silence Therapeutics.

tomorrow: Results/updates: CRH.

Wednesday: Results/updates: Cape, Domino's Pizza UK & Ireland, Marks & Spencer, Next, White Young Green.

THURSDAY: The grocery world will be keen to see if Sainsbury's, the UK's third-biggest supermarket, has suffered a further fall in underlying sales in its third quarter.

In its second quarter to 3 October, the grocer's like-for-like sales, excluding fuel and adjusted for VAT, fell back to 4.6 per cent, although this was ahead of the most recent updates from rivals Tesco and Morrisons.

Like other grocers, Sainsbury's strong underlying sales growth has been dented by falling food price inflation.

Similarly to Tesco on Clubcard, Sainsbury's made a big push on its loyalty card, Nectar, before Christmas and analysts will scrutinise any comments made by its chief executive, Justin King, about its impact. For the 28 weeks to 3 October, Sainsbury's posted pre-tax profits up 32.6 per cent to £342m.

Results/updates: Caledonia Investments, EasyJet, Hays, Hallin Marine Subsea, JD Sports Fashion, Persimmon, Rathbone Brothers, Sainsbury's.

friday: A day after Hays results, the executive search firm Michael Page International will provide further insight into the UK and overseas job market with its fourth-quarter and full-year trading update. In its third-quarter update posted in early October, Michael Page said that trading conditions had stopped deteriorating.

Steve Ingham, the chief executive, said: "We had anticipated that the seasonally quiet third quarter would be challenging, particularly in continental Europe, which was generally later into the downturn. However, as the third quarter progressed, market conditions in an increasing number of countries in which we operate began to show signs of stabilisation and, with our lower cost base, we have recorded an operating profits in the quarter."

Michael Page's third-quarter operating profit came in at about £5m, continuing the improved trend this year, although down on 2008. In December, analysts at KBC Peel Hunt predicted earning before interest and tax of £6m in the fourth quarter and revised upwards its full-year EBIT forecasts to £17.1m.

Results/updates: Cybit Holdings, Diamondcorp, Michael Page International, RAB Capital, Rank Group, The Restaurant Group.