We're heading for that critical Christmas trading season again.
As we head into the Christmas holidays, there's not much in the way of company news coming our way. But once we get over our turkey and pud, January will start to become interesting. We'll have a number important trading updates, including some covering the crucial Christmas period, which can be make-or-break for a number of businesses...
There won't be much in the way of actual results, although we do have two sets of important full-year figures coming our way. Here, then, are five dates to keep your eyes open for in January -- please note all share prices are from 20 December, as this had to be written in advance:
Tuesday 8 January, Persimmon
January brings us trading updates from a number of major housebuilders, starting with Persimmon (LSE: PSN), a constituent of the Fool's Beginners' Portfolio, on 8 January. All of our housebuilders appear to be well on the way out of their recessionary slump, with Persimmon's shares up 75% over the past 12 months, and now trading at around 825p.
We're not expecting any meaningful dividend this year, but Persimmon intends to resume decent payouts from next year, with City analysts forecasting a 5.8% yield for the year ending December 2013.
Other builders releasing updates during January include Taylor Wimpey on 14 January, Barratt Developments on 16 January, and Bovis Homes on 18 January.
Thursday 10 January, Tesco
Last year's Christmas trading statement from Tesco (LSE: TSCO) was something of a bombshell, and triggered the price fall that has kept the shares subdued all year. We'll hear about the 2012 Christmas season on 10 January.
Tesco launched a store revamp in the wake of last year's disappointment, and from its recent third-quarter update we heard that UK progress has been good, but that the company is likely to make an exit from its US business. The share price has recovered a little -- up around 338p at the time of writing.
Thursday 17 January, Dixons
As retail recoveries go, Dixons (LSE: DXNS) has given us a good one. From looking pretty bombed out, the company has been turned around and is handling today's multi-channel retailing considerably better. After a few years of losses, Dixons is forecast to turn in a profit for the year to April 2013, and that is expected to be strengthened the year after, though there will still be some way to go towards reinstating any meaningful dividend level. News of progress should be with us on 17 January in the form of a trading statement.
For recent investors, the really good news is that the share price has trebled this year, to around 30p. That's still a long way down on pre-crash levels, but it's better than many were fearing this time last year.
Wednesday 23 January, Unilever
We'll have fourth-quarter and full-year results from Unilever (LSE: ULVR) on 23 January.
The consumer brand giant has long been considered a safe investment during tough economic times, as its many products are the kind of things that people can't really do without -- unlike new cars and holidays in the sun.
The share price did dip in 2009, but it has recovered steadily since. In fact, it has risen more than 15% this year alone, to reach 2,430p. The shares do now look a little expensive, with year-end forecasts putting them on a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 19. Still, good things often don't come cheap.
Thursday 31 January, AstraZeneca
The 31st is fourth-quarter and full-year results time from AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), too. Not so long ago, big pharma was seen as a safe long-term investment. But more recently, the sector has suffered from increasing competition from generic substitutes for those highly profitable blockbusters, combined with poorer development pipelines and a move towards fancier biotechnology.
Share prices have stagnated over the past three years, with AstraZeneca now trading for around the same £29-30 level it was at in early 2010. But there have been nice dividends along the way, getting close to 6% yield levels, and forecasts suggest over 6% for this year and next from shares on a P/E of only around 8. Have the fears been overdone? Maybe we'll know by 31 January.
Finally, the secret to becoming rich from shares is simple long-term investing in fundamentally sound companies, and letting steady growth and dividends power your wealth upwards.
That's why it's always worth keeping abreast of what news is coming our way each month, and doing some background research on promising-looking candidates.
Achieving that near-mythical millionaire status might seem like a pipe dream, but it really is feasible for ordinary everyday investors like you and I. But if you have your doubts, read this free Motley Fool report and see if you change your mind. The report won't cost you a penny, so click here to have a copy delivered to your inbox while it's still available.
> Alan does not own any shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares in Tesco and has recommended shares in Unilever.