Wm Morrison Supermarkets' firsthalf results on Thursday will be a watershed, being the first time it shows the upside of its problematic acquisition of rival Safeway in 2004.
Britain's fourth biggest supermarket group is forecast to post a near trebling of first half pretax profit before exceptional items to 115.3 million pounds, according to seven analysts in Reuters Estimates.
Total sales were seen flat at 5.87 billion pounds, reflecting store disposals.
Analysts' forecasts were guided by a detailed trading update on August 3 when Morrison beat forecasts for first half sales, signalling a strong start to a three year plan unveiled in March and aimed at recovering from its purchase of Safeway, a move that pushed it to its first ever full year loss in 2005/06.
Morrison is expected finally to reap the initial benefits from the Safeway purchase, Charles Stanley analyst Jeremy Batstone said, adding that Morrison's results were seldom dull affairs since it bought Safeway.
Batstone, who forecast reported profit from continuing operations would rise nearly threefold to 122 million pounds, said: The outlook statement is, as ever, critical to sentiment as August's weather failed to live up to expectations.
The second quarter update to July 23 showed like for like growth of 6.1 percent. This may have slowed, he said.
Citigroup said it would be far too early to hear much from new chief executive Marc Bolland who took up his role on September 4. Analysts will be looking for insights and comments on strategy but it is unlikely that he will provide such insights and comments at this stage.
Batstone concurred, saying Bolland was likely to want to make the occasion a relatively downbeat affair. We suspect that the full year results should provide an appropriate platform for a more thoughtful summation of where (Bolland believes) the business is heading, he said.
At 2:20 p.m., Morrison shares, which have outperformed the food and drug retailing sector by 8 percent over the past 12 months, were up 2.4 percent to a 22 month high at 231.75 pence to value the business at 6.2 billion pounds.
The gains followed profit upgrades from Societe Generale, which previously raised its forecasts for Morrison at the end of July on the basis that there were strong signs food retailers were calling time on the value destroying price war.
Evidence since then ... suggests that the retailers are intent on holding onto a greater proportion of margin than we previously believed while driving price inflation rather than reacting to outside cost pressures.
Morrison remains the greatest beneficiary of this trend, Societe Generale said in a broker note, adding that it was upgrading its 2007/08 earnings forecast by 27 percent and 2008/09 by a further 26 percent.
Forecast Pretax profit Revenues
(all mln stg) pre exceptionals
Mean 115.3 5,868
Median 111.0 5,853
High 128.0 5,919
Low 103.0 5,842
Estimates 7 7