The Week Ahead: Recruiters to batten down the hatches

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Recruiters Michael Page International and Hays are likely to be in focus this week as investors seek to gauge the impact of the rising jobless toll on their respective businesses as the recession unfolds.

Michael Page is up first with its first quarter sales update, which is due tomorrow. The picture is predictably clouded, with UBS forecasting a 38 per cent decline in revenue in organic terms, compared to 16 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. The figure implies a flat performance in March, as the company saw a similar decline in the period between January and February. Given the rout in the economy, the broker expects investors to focus on cost-saving measures as the company battens down the hatches.

Hays will follow suit with its third quarter sales report on Thursday, and again revenues are expected to be on the way the down. UBS anticipates a 25 per cent decline for the quarter, with UK revenues expected to be down by 33 per cent. Revenues in the Asia Pacific region are forecast to ease by 24 per cent in the same period. "This compares with -10 per cent growth in the second quarter and -15 per cent in the early weeks of the third quarter," the broker said. "We expect management to announce they have cut costs significantly in early 2009, and confirm their reputation as the most determined in the industry to maintain margins."

Today: Polling firm YouGov is due to post interim results this morning and Numis is forecasting £1.4m in pre-tax profits, with 0.7 per in earnings per share. Although the company has warned of more challenging trading, the broker remains upbeat, highlighting the positive outlook as the online research market grows. "We believe the structural opportunity in the online market remains as firms look for quicker, cheaper and more effective research solutions, and highlight that the European online research market is forecast to grow [at a compounded annual growth rate of 28 per cent] between 2007-2012, according to Ernst & Young," the broker said. "We agree with YouGov that the current economic downturn may 'disrupt' the traditional research model, providing the group with an opportunity to gain market share."

Results: Carr's Milling and YouGov. Other: SEGRO rights issue closes 11am.

Tomorrow: Phoenix IT, the FTSE Small Cap-listed IT services group, is due to publish a trading update tomorrow. Panmure Gordon, which weighed in on the company last week, remains cautious ahead of the announcement, maintaining a "hold" recommendation until it feels "more relaxed" about the direction of forecasts for next year.

"There are concerns about slowing revenue growth, weakness in partner services, net debt and contract renewals. However, we like third party managed services in an economic downturn, as the sales message should resonate with cash-strapped buyers," the broker said, adding that the return of founder Nick Robinson could be a catalyst for improved performance.

Also tomorrow, EasyJet is due to publish traffic statistics. In March last year, the company carried 3.73 million passengers, achieving a load factor of 87.4 per cent. The numbers for last month are likely to be lower, according to Numis, owing to the timing of Easter – which fell in March in 2008 but occurs in April this year. "The Easter factor will make [the] March traffic data difficult to read," the broker said.

Results: Victrex, EasyJet, Phoenix IT and Michael Page International.

Wednesday: Panmure Gordon expects an in-line update for Alterian, the marketing software specialist that is due to post a year-end trading statement mid-week. The broker, which maintains a "buy" stance on the company's stock, expects the business to earn almost £40m in revenues this year, up from £19.3m last year, and forecasts £5.8m in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.

"Operationally, the message is likely to be about strong revenue growth in the 'other' regions, which offsets 'some slowing' in the US growth rate," Panmure said, adding Alterian was attractive to investors scouring the sector for "companies with scale, global footprint, established US market present".

Results/Updates: JD Sports, Evolution, PZ Cussons, and Alterian.

Thursday: Retail sector investors will have their eyes on Halfords, the car parts and cycles chain due to publish a pre-close update by the end of the week. Like the wider sector, growth is forecast to slow, with UBS expecting -3.9 per cent like-for-like sales growth for the current year, compared to the +4.2 per cent for 2008.

Results: Vedanta Resources, Halfords and Hays. Other: SIG EGM to approve company's 350m capital raising.

Friday: Results: None – market holiday.

Economics Diary

Monday: Eurozone retail sales data for February, Bank of England narrow money (notes & coins) and reserve balances for March

Tuesday: Industrial & manufacturing production figures for February

Wednesday: NIESR monthly GDP estimates for March, BRC shop price index for March, Nationwide consumer confidence index for March

Thursday: Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee interest rate announcement, producer price indices

Friday: Bank Holiday, no announcements expected

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