5 Shares for the Week Ahead

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LONDON -- We won't be getting a lot of company news next week, but what we'll lack in quantity will be made up for in quality, as some key companies in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 report full-year and interim figures. Here are five that you might want to dig into ahead of their news releases...

Associated British Foods
Food and textile firm Associated British Foods (LSE: ABF.L  ) has been a big success story, with its shares having piled up 25% over the past 12 months to 1,386 pence -- pretty good for an 11 billion pound FTSE 100 giant.

On Tuesday, the company will deliver full-year results, and they should be good. September's pre-close update said that second-half operating profit should be "substantially ahead of last year and in line with expectations," suggesting current forecasts for a 16% rise in earnings per share are on the mark.

It's a quality company, but like most it's highly valued, with the shares on a price-to-earnings ratio of 16. That's higher than the FTSE average, and the dividend is only likely to be around 2%.

It's interim time for Marks & Spencer (LSE: MKS.L  ) the same day, and that's been another investment success this year. The high-street favorite had been struggling but, part way through its recovery program, 2012 has so far seen a share price rise in excess of 25%, to 393 pence today.

At the first-quarter stage in July, significant progress towards multi-channel retailing was seen, with a 15% rise in sales -- getting the mix of high-street and online sales right is increasingly key to successful retail these days. The full year is expected to be relatively flat, with a dividend of around 4.5% expected, so some hints as to how that is going would be welcome.

Over to the FTSE 250, we have interim figures from FirstGroup (LSE: FGP.L  ) due on Wednesday. FirstGroup's shares plunged when its newly won West Coast rail franchise was cancelled at the beginning of last month due to irregularities in the handling of the bids by the Department of Transport. Since then, the price has picked up a little to 206 pence, but it's still around 40% down on the year.

At the time of FirstGroup's last trading update, things were in line with expectations, but that was the day before the franchise news broke. Forecasts suggest a full-year dividend of 12%, but that's looking very uncertain. And there's a lot of debt on the books. But with the shares on a P/E of under 7, we could have a nice recovery prospect on our hands.

We're looking at some very different sectors here this week, and a portfolio spread across a number of them can help protect against shocks. But which sectors are doing best?

Earlier this year, we asked the Motley Fool's top analysts to pick their favorite sectors for 2012, and you can see the result in this free report. What did they pick and how are they doing so far?

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Thursday should bring half-time figures from biotechnology specialist BTG (LSE: BTG.L  ) , which goes for speciality treatments and new medical technology rather than the big-ticket blockbusters preferred by the likes of GlaxoSmithKline.

BTG has been oscillating between profit and loss for the past few years, but things look to have stabilized in 2012 and we have steady profit growth forecast for the next two years.

But like many high-tech growth companies, BTG's shares are highly rated -- on a P/E of 30 with no dividends in sight yet.

Tate & Lyle
Back to the FTSE 100 to finish this week's look, and it's time for first-half results from Tate & Lyle (LSE: TATE.L  ) on Thursday. Since reinventing itself and disposing of its sugar refining and molasses businesses, the company's prospects have been looking good.

An update in September told us the firm's Bulk Ingredients divisions is enjoying strong sales of liquid sweeteners, with its Specialty Food Ingredients division showing improved performance (though some specific problems should mean profits for that division will be down on last year).

If you're planning to spread your money across different sectors like these, going for companies that pay regular dividends can help cushion you against adverse share price movements.

The Motley Fool report "8 Shares Held By Britain's Super Investor" takes a look at Neil Woodford's approach to that strategy, and if you click here you can get a copy while it's still free.

Further Motley Fool investment opportunities:

Alan Oscroft does not own any shares mentioned in this article.The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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