George Osborne’s 2014 Budget falls on something of a “super Wednesday” for UK economy watchers, with unemployment figures and the latest monetary policy committee (MPC) minutes also due.
While the Budget will dominate the news on the day, few giveaways are expected as the Chancellor sticks with his attempts to tackle Britain’s deficit.
The labour market is likely to have strengthened further but the overall rate of improvement may show further signs of slowing compared to the latter months of 2013. Any weakness will be taken as a sign that interest rates are to remain low well into next year, a view likely to be endorsed by the MPC.
• Smart Metering Systems – The Glasgow–based firm will provide annual results after already indicating that it enjoyed strong growth in the number of meters it manages.
• Sainsbury’s – Analysts are forecasting a decline of as much as 3 per cent in like–for–like sales in a sharp reversal of recent fortunes for the supermarket chain. The drop would bring to a close its lengthy run of sales growth.
• Asos – Sales growth likely slowed in the online retailer’s short post-Christmas quarter, but the figures will still look enviable to most rivals as takings are expected to be up by about a quarter year-on-year.
• Scottish Renewables – The industry body’s annual conference will see more than 1,000 delegates and 60 exhibitors gather at Edinburgh International Conference Centre to discuss the issues of the day.
• The Budget – Chancellor George Osborne is set to dominate the day’s news, with unemployment figures due in the morning potentially providing the backdrop.
• MPC minutes – With no immediate prospect for change, the Bank of England’s policy deliberations will likely have switched to its forward guidance. The minutes will, therefore, be scrutinised for signs of what interest rates might do next year.
• US Federal Reserve – The Fed’s rate-setting open market committee, on the other hand, will be pondering a further cut to its money printing programme at its March meeting (see Spotlight).
• Next – Fashion chain Next looks set to mark a milestone when results show annual profits overtaking those of high street bellwether Marks & Spencer for the first time in its history.
• Ted Baker – The group reported solid numbers for the key Christmas period and should be set to meet City expectations of solid growth during the year as a whole. The brand largely avoided discounting.
• Public finances – As the end-of-year tax deadline fell on a Friday this year, the taxman may have received a boost from payments arriving the following week. That could help government borrowing for February come in below last year’s £9 billion figure.