The week ahead: Retailers remain in investor spotlight

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The health of the high street will remain under the spotlight this week with updates expected from a string of big names including Carphone Warehouse, WH Smith and bookmaker William Hill.

A strong line-up of best-selling books may have provided a boost for WH Smith over the festive period.

The group saw sales slide 
6 per cent after Christmas 2011 after a weak selection of celebrity biographies dented trade. But retail experts said it stood to benefit from a more promising line-up at the end of 2012, with top sellers including JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.

The group has shifted its focus away from lower-margin CDs and DVDs towards books and stationery. It has also reduced its reliance on the Christmas trading period.

The turnaround strategy has reaped rewards for the company, which has 618 stores on the high street and a further 619 at travel sites such as airports, train stations and motorway service areas.

Bookmaker William Hill updates this week, having been in the spotlight recently over two deals which are ­expected to be transformational for the group.

It announced a recommended £485 million offer for Paradise Poker firm Sportingbet last month, with bid partner European gaming company GVC, a move which will significantly extend its international footprint.

William Hill also started the formal process to buy out the minority stake in William Hill Online from Playtech and speculation is mounting over a potential cash-call among shareholders.

Carphone Warehouse will reveal if its hopes for a Christmas revival in the pay-as-you-go market came through when it updates on Thursday.

The group said in November it was “quietly optimistic” over the festive season as the availability of more affordable smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy Y, was ­driving a sales turnaround.

Unilever, whose brands include Knorr and PG Tips, is expected to confirm that its strategy to target emerging markets has helped offset weaker consumer demand in Europe when it posts annual results on Wednesday.

Analysts are expecting an increase in operating profits to £7.05 billion in 2012 from £6.43bn a year earlier, thanks to a predicted 6.5 per cent hike in underlying sales.