Stock market week: Chisholm going for a high as he plays his last number for BSkyB

The results season starts to run into its summer barren season next week with only a handful of blue chip companies reporting.

But as City folk head for the sun, British Sky Broadcasting should provide some excitement for those left in the Square Mile when it reports its full-year statement on Friday.

The results, brought forward by a week, will be the swansong numbers of departing chief executive Sam Chisholm.

The redoubtable Murdoch executive, dubbed "the bruiser of the box" by the media, announced in June that he was due to step down at the end of the year due to ill health. However, some industry analysts expect Mr Chisholm to be out of the company by September.

The square-framed New Zealander, renowned for his no-nonsense management style, is credited with doing more than most to drive BSkyB from potentially fatal losses to a powerhouse. He would obviously love to go out on a high and it is understood the figures will be better than most City expectations.

Though analysts are forecasting profits in the range of pounds 300-pounds 312m, it is understood the operating figures could be inflated by around pounds 13m.

This is a result of the inclusion of part of the pounds 75m pre-payment for programmes provided to British Digital Broadcasting, the digital television consortium.

BSkyB was forced to pull out of the consortium and was paid compensation. The operating figure is expected to be around pounds 360m, which represents an impressive 18 per cent like for like increase year on year.

The headline figure will be around pounds 305m though the broker forecasts range from a low of around pounds 290m to a high of pounds 312m. The comparable figure last year was pounds 257m.

This will please the City as the results will be presented against the backdrop of a poor year for the company.

The share price has underperformed the market by a thumping 42 per cent since October 1996.

The shares have collapsed from nearly 700p last November to just 473p in a period when the FTSE has soared to record levels.

Though the shares have still outperformed the market by 14 per cent since the float, this still represents a torrid year for the media giant which has become used to sweeping all before it.

While the results will show that the business has continued to grow, that growth has slowed substantially as the year progressed. Some brokers, including NatWest Securities are concerned that the group faces a challenging period as it invests heavily in the new digital era as the analogue business slows down.

Analysts say that BSkyB's valuation depends entirely on the success of the digital launch in the spring of next year.

Though it seems as though the media giant has a stranglehold on the ownership rights of the digital era, this could be weakened by the proliferation of distribution platforms around the world.

BSkyB may have to gain more control over the distribution of its programming in cable to ensure that its vice-like grip is maintained.

Some brokers are therefore advising that with a coming period of increased risk, the share price picture may remain fuzzy until the digital issues are resolved.

Other companies reporting next week take in the insurance, industrial conglomerate and leisure sectors.

Of the industrial groups, BOC is the largest due to report, though they are only third-quarter figures.

The gases group, not normally one to make headlines, has been much in the news recently after it put its Ohmeda Healthcare business up for sale.

The price tag is expected to be around pounds 1bn with Zeneca, Smiths Industries and a host of overseas companies all interested. The market will be hoping for news on the disposal.

The third-quarter figures are thought to be broadly flat compared with the same period last year.

Pre-tax profits are expected to come in at pounds 112m an increase of just 2 per cent. Underlying volume growth in gases is expected to have continued in single-digit figures aided by new plant brought on stream in the US.

But though the underlying business in gases is strong it is thought that this will be overshadowed by currency movements.

Also chipping in with third-quarter figures will be Hanson, the one-time giant conglomerate which announced a four-way split last year.

The remaining Hanson business has streamlined itself down to four legs after the disposal of its electricals business.

However some say the four legs may soon become three if, as some brokers say, potential suitors are asked to cast their acquisitive gaze across the Grove crane operation.

Though figures are for the third quarter, the City's focus will be on the six-month trading period of the "new" Hanson which is reverting to a December year-end.

High industry stock levels will hamper London Brick but Cornerstone, the US aggregates business should help the group to a six month operating figure of around pounds 121m and pounds 155m for the nine months.

In insurance, both General Accident and Sedgewick are reporting interim figures this week.

At GA, the results will look strong compared with other composites. That reflects the benefits of the Provident Mutual acquisition and a below- average exposure to the weaker currencies in Europe.

Operating profits for the six months to June are forecast to be 29 per cent ahead of last year at pounds 250m. The main engines of growth have been a sharp fall in the underwriting loss and the benefits of the Provident Mutual deal.

At Sedgewick, some brokers have been surprised that the group's US quote has had little effect on the share price which has been in the doldrums for some time. Weak premium rates remain a feature and profit forecasts are for a 7 per cent fall in profits to just under pounds 60m, though some forecasts are as high as pounds 66m.

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