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Wetherspoon toasts festive sales surge

10:25 16 January 2013

WETHERSPOON PUBS - THE BELL HOTEL. Norwich

WETHERSPOON PUBS - THE BELL HOTEL. Norwich

JD Wetherspoon toasted an 8pc surge in festive sales but warned rising costs would dent profit margins as it faces higher energy bills and wage costs.

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The group, which has around 860 pubs and almost 30,000 staff, said half-year margins were expected to be around 1.1% lower than its previous financial year in the face of higher tax, utilities, labour, bar and food supply costs, as well as marketing expenses.

Wetherspoon added its corporation tax bill was expected to hit 27.5pc this year.

The group said sales and profits were "resilient, in spite of the continuing taxation and regulation burden on the pub industry and the ongoing pressure on consumer's disposable incomes".

It also shrugged off severe wet weather and flooding to report the rise in sales over the 11 weeks to January 13, which have helped overall like-for-like sales rise 7.6pc so far this financial year.

But shares in the group dropped 2pc as today's margin blow overshadowed the sales cheer, with expectations for further cost pressures when this April's above-inflation alcohol duty increases come into effect.

James Hollins, analyst at Investec Securities, cut his annual profit forecasts for Wetherspoon by 5pc after the update, to £70.4 million.

He said: "Wetherspoon has reported an exceptionally strong second quarter sales performance, highlighting the strength of its pub offering in any weather.

"However, the top-line growth has come at the expense of higher costs, notably a material uplift in utilities costs."

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