ITV continues big-name results schedule

THE rush of corporate results continues this week with figures from more heavyweight companies, including ITV and Norwich Union owner Aviva.

The UK's biggest home insurer, Norwich Union, revealed this week it would take a 340 million financial hit from flood damage claims, warning the cost would have an impact on parent group Aviva's second-half results.

While 165m of this is not set to show until Aviva's full-year results, 175m in payouts related to June's floods in the north of England are expected to impact on interim figures due out on Thursday.

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Aviva has also warned it may not meet its 2007 targets for combined operating ratio - a key industry measure that looks at how much an insurer pays out in costs and claims for every 1 it receives in premiums. It emerged that the group is hiking household premiums by 10 per cent on average, which should help to recoup losses, although the group said the increases were not a direct result of the floods.

Ladbrokes reports interims on Thursday and is expected to follow fellow bookmaker William Hill in unveiling results that lack last year's boost from the football World Cup.

The competition brought in 17.5m in gross winnings for Ladbrokes in the first six months of last year, which it may struggle to match. In May, Ladbrokes said gross winnings were up by 2 per cent.

A trading statement last month indicated that the group was expecting the star performer of the year so far to be its telephone arm, which may help offset strong comparatives.

Ladbrokes forecasts operating profits from the division will be about 45m higher in the six months to 30 June, up from 16.3m.

Aside from the figures, Ladbrokes, which operates about 2,200 betting shops, has had an eventful past six months. Takeover talks with online gaming firm 888 fell through in April, followed by the apparent government U-turn on "supercasinos", with the group front-runner to bid for some of the licences.

Broadcaster ITV has been battling against a tough advertising market over the past two years, but offered a glimmer of hope last month when it said conditions may be stabilising at last.

ITV said advertising revenues in the year so far were down 5 per cent, with ITV1 off 9.6 per cent and digital channels continuing to do well. Interim figures on Wednesday are expected to show a 32 per cent drop in underlying earnings to 137m, although analysts at Investec Securities believe the results will highlight "less worse" trading in ITV1 and strength in the digital channels.

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Executive chairman Michael Grade, who took over from Charles Allen last November, is said to have made a good start in revitalising the channel's fortunes.

ITV has invested 500 million in new programmes since the start of the year out of a full-year spend of 1 billion, some of which have been hits, such as Britain's Got Talent, which gained 11.6 million viewers.

Viewing figures will be key, with signs of improvement sought, especially in light of the Contract Rights Renewal mechanism, which reduces the amount that ITV advertisers have to pay if audience figures fall.

The Competition Commission's inquiry into the 17.9 per cent stake that BSkyB holds in ITV continues to hang over the group, with the findings from the investigation not due until next month.

Defence firm BAE Systems is widely expected to publish a positive set of first-half results on Thursday.

Solid order growth in its US land vehicle unit and recent mine resistant vehicle contact wins are set to help the group overcome the impact of the weaker US dollar on profitability. The results should provide a boost for BAE, which has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months over arms dealings with Saudi Arabia.

In June, the company confirmed it was being investigated by the US Department of Justice over its "compliance with anti-corruption laws, including the company's business concerning the kingdom of Saudi Arabia", causing shares to dive amid fears over the implications for its rapidly expanding US business.

Analyst expect the company to post underlying earnings (excluding interest, tax and amortisation) of 611m in six months to 30 June, up from 600m in the year-earlier period, although the company was quick to point out that last year's figure included a 63m one-off pension gain.

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The UK's biggest car dealership, Pendragon, is set to reveal the extent of its weak trading performance when it posts its interim figures on Tuesday.

The Nottingham-based firm, which operates 400 sites in the UK under the brands Evans Halshaw and Stratstone, issued a profits warning in June, saying higher borrowing costs had put the brakes on consumer spending.

The company said this would dent profits during the start of the year by about 20m as it also said that the increased use of incentives by car manufacturers had put pressure on the used car market, with consumers seeing greater value in buying new cars.

Rising interest rates have a particularly strong impact on the car sector because of the proportion of vehicles bought under finance packages. Higher borrowing costs deter potential buyers, while the current tighter credit environment also means fewer people are approved financing.

Analysts have said that Pendragon stands to take a far greater hit from industry downturns compared with its rivals Inchcape and Lookers, as it has to integrate the Reg Vardy chain, which it acquired for 504m last year.

Analysts are forecasting pre-tax profits for the six months to 30 June to fall to 27.1m, down from 36.8m last year.

Shareholders will be looking to see if the company comments on any recent rumours surrounding a possible buyout or break-up of the firm - although this looks unlikely given the current volatility of the equity market.

The company is also reported to have been looking at entering into a deal for the sale-and-lease-back of a portfolio of properties in order to unlock value from its assets.


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SCOTTISH & Newcastle will reveal its half-year figures this week, which are likely to show that the wet British summer has led to a 5 per cent fall in UK beer sales.

However, strong international sales, driven by the growing popularity of beer in Russia, should help offset the contraction in the UK market.

The company, behind brands including John Smith's, Scrumpy Jack and Kronenbourg, is more exposed to the UK and western European markets than its rivals. There is also expected to be some drag on the figures from rising interest rates.

Analyst Trevor Stirling, at Bernstein Research, notes that despite this exposure, the UK beer brands have gained market share and the company has instigated a series of cost-cutting measures to boost its earnings per share. He says: "This is likely to be a mixture of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

The Baltic Beverages Holding joint venture with Carlsberg has just reported exceptional growth in profits and market share.

Analysts' forecasts put pre-tax profits for the six months at between 210 million and 206m, up from 187m last year.