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Sports Direct and Whitbread highlight positives

SPORTS Direct and the owner of coffee chain Costa will prove there is money to made in retail this week when they provide updates to the City.

Mike Ashley's Sports Direct International will unveil higher half-year profits on Thursday as it takes advantage of the demise of rival JJB Sports and benefits from Olympic fever.

The group, which has nearly 400 stores and owns brands including Slazenger, Donnay and Karrimor, is expected by brokers Numis to report a 20% rise in underlying earnings to £169 million.

Chief executive Dave Forsey said the period to September was buoyed by demand for products linked to the London Olympics and an excellent back-to-school period. He said in October trading had been equally strongsince then.

Leisure group Whitbread will reveal further strong growth in sales at its coffee business Costa tomorrow, amid ongoing speculation that a spin-off will be on the cards.

Costa, which has nearly 1400 outlets in the UK, is forecast by analysts at Barclays Equity Research to reveal like-for-like sales growth in its third quarter of 6%.

Shares in Whitbread are 50% higher than they were at the start of the year.

The coffee chain is also expected to benefit from recent bad publicity for Starbucks and Caffe Nero regarding their UK tax positions.

Carpetright is expected to show further signs of a tentative recovery tomorrow as the floor coverings chain reveals a bounce in half-year profits.

The group, which has 484 outlets in the UK, is forecast by brokers Numis Securities to report pre-tax profits of £7m in the six months to the end of October, a figure which is up from £1.4m last year.

The group posted a small improvement in sales in the UK in its first quarter as self-help actions such as its drive to sell more beds, the extension of laminate ranges to more stores and the impact of shop refits helped to offset volatile trading conditions.

Its like-for-like sales figure increased 0.6% in the 12 weeks to October 13, following on from a rise of 1.7% in the previous quarter. The slowdown was largely due to the weather.

Transport group Go-Ahead will face further questions over plans to grow its bus division when it reveals its first-half trading update tomorrow.

The company currently generates an annual return of £70m from a fleet of around 4600 buses carrying some 1.7 million passengers a day.

It recently said it wants to take profits to £100m a year by 2015/16 through "high quality services, innovation and marketing and cost-efficiency".

It comes as Go-Ahead faces up to uncertainty in its rail operation following the Department for Transport's decision to postpone current rail franchise competitions in the wake of the West Coast main line debacle.

Go-Ahead is behind one-third of the UK's rail journeys through its Govia joint venture, which runs the Southern, Southeastern and London Midland franchises. Shares in the group have had a volatile year and broadly stand at the same price –1255p per share – as they did in December last year.

Superdry owner SuperGroup is expected to report higher profits in its half-year results on Wednesday after colder weather boosted sales of coats and hoodies. However, the strong performance will be flattered by soft sales in the previous year, when the company was hit by problems with new warehouse management systems.

SuperGroup, which started life as a market stall in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, is forecast by brokers at Numis Securities to report a 33% rise in pre-tax profits to £17.4m for the six months to the end of October.

The company, which has 105 UK and European retail stores, 70 UK and 52 international concessions and 122 franchised and licensed stores worldwide, reported a 3.9% rise in UK like-for-like sales for the period.

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