The results caravan moves on next week through two of its biggest stops on the trip. On Tuesday, Tesco unveils first-half figures and on Thursday, Marks & Spencer issues second-quarter numbers.

The general atmosphere of gloom has hit Tesco along with other retailers, prompting hand-wringing about erosion of UK market share and increased competition. But those concerns look paltry compared with the retailer’s strengths and continued momentum. In June, when the retailer last updated, boss Sir Terry Leahy was bullish about outperforming rivals and it looks as if Tesco’s war cabinet has been in permanent session since.

On almost every front, the grocer has been on the offensive. In the UK, last week’s Discounter range launch shows it will not allow emerging rivals to park their tanks on its lawn.

Overseas growth continues apace with Indian launch plans and the roll-out of Fresh & Easy. Although sometimes questioned, international is one of Tesco’s biggest strengths.

Tesco’s top brass are well schooled in trading through difficult times. Although Tesco may, like other retailers, feel the cool breeze of the slowdown it will not be left in the cold.

At M&S, the picture is less clear. The retailer has been dogged by bad news throughout the year and trading has been under pressure. There seems little reason to believe that next week’s update will deviate from the trend.

The fact that M&S did not originally intend to update on the second quarter next week has been taken as a sign that things are bad. The only question is how bad.

A disappointing update would be used as another stick with which to beat Sir Stuart Rose. But, like Leahy, the M&S boss knows about surviving downturns. If there’s an upset there will be carping, but there’s nobody obvious who would do a better job.

Woolies on a knife-edge

Anybody harbouring the slightest doubt about the scale of the task facing new Woolworths chief Steve Johnson need only glance at the auditors’ comments at the back of last week’s interims. In reference to the disclosures made on the results’ basis of preparation, the auditors said: “These disclosures indicate the existence of material uncertainties which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” In other words, Woolies better sell an awful lot of pick 'n mix this Christmas.

George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week