News

If you are reading this in the northern hemisphere — and subscribe to meteorological definition of the seasons — the good news is that we are rapidly heading into spring. And like the promise of warmer and longer days (not to mention daffodils for St David’s Day on Wednesday), there is some reason for cheer amid the news diary gloom.

But first, the really depressing one. Few need reminding about the conflict in Ukraine, but it is worth noting — and no doubt will be by other media outlets — that Monday is the ninth anniversary of the pro-Russian uprising in Crimea that led to the annexation of the peninsula. If you want some idea of a way forward, I’d recommend the Weekend essay on what the Cold War taught us about containing Russia.

Also on Monday, British households will get some clarity (and perhaps good news) on where their fuel bills are heading when Ofgem updates its energy price cap for the coming quarter. The average annual UK domestic charge had been expected to rise £500 to £3,000 (lower than Ofgem’s headline figure, thanks to the government’s Energy Price Guarantee), and confidence is growing that this upper limit will be frozen after heavy lobbying from campaigners.

The outlook is mixed for that other rolling UK story: the surge in strikes. A surprise drop in public sector borrowing has brought hope of a resolution to many of the pay disputes, but the situation remains complicated.

Some action due to take place this week has been postponed to enable negotiations on settlements, while others (such as the TSSA rail union) have approved offers. But we start on Monday with yet more walk outs and a threat of new disputes springing up as the deadline for ballots among NHS consultants and rail workers conclude on Monday and Tuesday respectively.

So what about some unashamed good news? Well, for astronauts the only way is up. Nasa’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station is due to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early on Monday morning local time. You can follow events live on the agency’s website.

Companies

One season drawing to a close is the earnings one.

One to watch will be Salesforce on Wednesday as the activist investors circle. The core problem has been a lack of attention to profit margins at the expense of growth — Wall Street has complained about this for years, but the software company’s growth was always enough to fend off the naysayers. Unfortunately for co-founder and chief executive Marc Benioff, growth has taken a dip (see the chart below) leaving him exposed — and the job cuts, while significant, so far don’t go far enough.

The full-year results from Serco were supposed to come last Thursday, but a request by auditors KPMG for more time means they will now be out on Tuesday. Investors and analysts will be listening carefully to recently appointed chief executive Mark Irwin in case he heralds a change in direction for the outsourcer.

Rival Capita, which reports two days later, has been disposing its non-core businesses to raise cash, so watch out for an update on this.

This week also sees the annual gathering of mobile telecoms industry executives and tech enthusiasts in Barcelona for the MWC trade show, offering a chance for chief executives to comment on the future direction of the wireless networked world and companies to launch new digital toys.

Economic data

It’s a quieter week for economic data reports with inflation and gross domestic product updates the most common items. Another set of purchasing managers’ index reports, this time for manufacturing, will add to the international comparisons of economic performance, although less use for observers of the UK’s performance than last week’s services PMI data.

The minutes of the last European Central Bank monetary policy committee meeting and the US and eurozone consumer confidence figures could help provide some indication of future interest rate movements on either side of the Atlantic.

Read the full week ahead calendar here.

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