The Week Ahead: Updates due from Aggreko and Park alongside data on inflation and borrowing

WITH few corporate updates expected this week, attention will switch to the economy and the spending power of consumers in the run-up to Christmas.

Inflation is expected to dip in figures released on Tuesday, but economists see it as a temporary reprieve as the cost of living is set to rise in the months ahead.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is forecast to have fallen slightly to 2.6% in November, from 2.7% in October, in figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The impact of energy bill increases from supplier SSE will be offset by the effect of steeper utility bill rises in November last year, but with further price ncreases from other providers due in the months ahead, CPI inflation is predicted to peak at 3.5% by mid-2013.

And in a busy week for economic releases, public finance figures are forecast to bring some cheer to the Chancellor and reveal a drop in borrowing in November, while retail sales for the same month should receive a pre-Christmas boost and rise by around 0.3%.

The rate of inflation unexpectedly shot up in October from a three-year low of 2.2% in September to 2.7%, described by one economist as a “nasty surprise”.

A near trebling in university tuition fees and a hike in food prices were blamed for the increase, which was the biggest month-on-month jump in a year.

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Looking ahead, economists expect the upward trend to continue after the slight moderation in November.

Victoria Clarke, economist at Investec, said: “The SSE bill hike alone implies a smaller monthly rise in overall gas and electricity prices than between the same two months a year ago, applying downward pressure to the 12-month rate of inflation.

“With few other sources of upward pressure, we expect to see CPI inflation notch down to 2.6%, before the uptrend resumes.”

Resurgent inflation will come as a blow to pensioners and savers, who have seen their income hit hard by rock bottom interest rates.

It will likely also fuel speculation that the Bank of England will hold off from taking further action under its economy-boosting quantitative easing (QE) programme.

Demand for temporary power in the US following superstorm Sandy should have helped Olympics contractor Aggreko in the wake of a profits warning.

It received a �59million boost from its London 2012 contract, but said in October that its overall results were impacted by unfavourable currency movements and as bad debt provisions increased.

Since then, Aggreko has won work in the US where the superstorm knocked out the main power supply in many parts of New York and along the east coast.

While storm related revenues are not an unusual occurrence for Aggreko, Seymour Pierce analyst Caroline de La Soujeole said events in the US could provide a 2% boost to pre-tax forecasts for its year end. The company is due to post another trading update on Monday.

She added: “As Sandy has been described as the largest hurricane in Atlantic storm history, we therefore feel justified to use as a base case scenario the events of 2008 – Hurricane Gustav and Ike – and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which were the last two particularly eventful years for Aggreko.”

The City currently predicts the group will post full-year pre-tax profits of �364.8 million in 2012, up from �307.1 million in 2011.

The Glasgow-based group, which also provided power generation and temperature control systems at events such as the football World Cup and US Superbowl, said in October that underlying revenues rose 13% in the third quarter, helped by the Olympics work.

Aggreko’s local division, which handled the Olympics, delivered a better-than-expected performance in the quarter, with underlying revenues up 11%.

The local business operates from around 133 service centres in 31 countries and rents out products ranging from small generators to large cooling plants.

Its international power arm, which serves utilities, governments, armed forces and major industrial customers with power plants ranging from 10 megawatts to 100 megawatts on a single site, saw order intake below a year earlier.

The return of former Loose Women presenter Coleen Nolan as the face of Park’s Christmas savings advert should help drive a strong performance in its interim results on Tuesday.

Analysts at Arden Partners predict the group will see a further jump in pre-tax profits to �9.5 million for the year to next March, up from �8.6 million a year earlier.

Park, which sells vouchers, hampers and other gift products on a 45-week prepaid instalment plan in time for Christmas, said in September that savings orders for Christmas were 6% ahead of the same time last year.

It also said corporate sales were doing well, showing 13% year-on-year growth.

Ben Thefaut, analyst at Arden Partners, said the group’s “flexecash” pre-paid card, which can be used at 40 retailers, including M&S, Argos and Boots, were being taken up by both consumer and corporate customers.

He said: “Pre-paid cards are the most common gift in the US and this market is growing in the UK. This initiative presents a major growth opportunity for Park as the gift-giving model evolves from paper to plastic.”

The group also signed a deal with the TopCashBack website, which gives customers a percentage of the cost of a purchase into a cashback account. Customers will be able to receive their bonus on Park Group’s flexecash card.

The growing popularity of the prepaid cards, used by corporate customers to reward staff and by consumers to save for Christmas, is now far bigger than its hampers business, the group’s original product when it was founded in 1967.

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