The business week ahead: Spring is in the air as big names prepare to show their hands

A BUSY week signalling springtime in the corporate reporting season kicks off today with annual results for Alliance Trust, the UK's biggest investment trust with gross assets of about £2.5 billion.

Watchers will be looking for insights into the investment strategy led by Katherine Garrett-Cox, chief executive of the Dundee-based trust, and how this in turn has affected returns to investors. Investors will also be keen to hear any plans the trust has to reduce its gaping 400 million share price discount on the value of its assets.

Tesco's results tomorrow are set to show the biggest retail profit in UK history of about 3.3bn, an 8 per cent rise in annual profits following aggressive action to shore up its position in a fiercely competitive grocery market.

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Sales growth across the sector has been dampened by slowing food inflation in the second half of the year, but the UK's biggest retailer has been flexing its muscles with promotions such as double Clubcard points for its shoppers.

Analysts of AB Foods tomorrow expect it to announce half-year pre-tax profits of 317m, up from 275m. The grocery brand and clothes retailer predicted in February that its brands, which include Silver Spoon and Twinings Ovaltine, were showing strong sales and profits. However, its discount clothing chain Primark is expected to be the stand-out performer once more, after better than forecast trading over Christmas.

On Wednesday, computer games and consoles retailer Game is set to reveal pre-tax profits of 88.8m for the year to 31 January – the second-best profit performance in the group's history, but well down on the previous year's 126.2m. The retailer has already braced investors for poor results amid a difficult year for the industry after a bumper 2008.

Sales reflect a downturn in video game sales overall. Despite record demand for the blockbuster releases Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Fifa 10, other titles in 2009 have not done so well.

Price cuts by supermarket rivals – selling the hit games at below cost – have also hurt the group, as well as retailers such as HMV looking to grab a bigger share of the market.

Half-year figures from WH Smith on Thursday are set to reveal how the retail chain has fared throughout the tail end of the recession and tough high street conditions.

The group has not been immune to the woes that have hit rivals, with recent sales figures showing a 4 per cent decline on a like-for-like basis. But its defensive qualities – with an average transaction cost of around 5 – has helped the group, as have moves to reduce its reliance on the highly competitive entertainment market, including CDs and DVDs.

WH Smith grew profits in its last financial year to 31 August by 8 per cent to 81m, and analysts are expecting a small rise in half-year pre-tax profits to 61.5m, up from 61m a year earlier.

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But WH Smith's chief executive Kate Swann may in the meantime face questioning over her future plans after recent reports tipped her as a potential candidate to succeed Royal Mail boss Adam Crozier after his move to ITV.

Pubs group Punch Taverns reports half-year results on Thursday after surprising the market with news that its boss is to stand down after nine years with the group.

Chief executive Giles Thorley announced his departure plans late last month, although the firm said it was "well advanced" in finding his successor.

News of his departure was described as "unexpected and a shock" by one analyst, although shares have risen since the announcement.

Punch, which has more than 7,600 leased and tenanted pubs, plunged to annual losses of 405.7m in the year to last August after slashing 663m from the value of its estate. The group has taken action to stabilise the pub estate and cut its debt, including a 375m fundraising.

Analysts are pencilling in a 20 per cent slump in half-year pre-tax profits to 65m.