Confidence grows as Wetherspoon hopes new pubs will pay off

JD Wetherspoon sounded a slightly more upbeat note about trading yesterday after returning to sales growth and predicting a "resilient" performance.

The group, which has more than 780 pubs in the UK, said sales from pubs open more than a year were up by 1 per cent in the 11 weeks to July 11.

This compared with the 0.8 per cent drop seen in early May, when Wetherspoon said it felt slightly more cautious about the outlook for the next financial year.

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Despite the impact of higher interest charges and taxation and employment pressures, Wetherspoon said it was "confident of a resilient performance".

It added that it had generated sufficient cash to enable it to open 47 new pubs in the financial year to the end of July.

This meant total sales increased by 5.8 per cent in the period, covering the last quarter of the financial year.

The improved performance came after Wetherspoon extended the opening hours of its pubs to 7am after five years of breakfast trading from 9am.

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It is now one of the UK's biggest coffee chains, selling 25 million coffees a year and about half that number of breakfasts.

As well as longer opening hours, Wetherspoon benefited from warmer weather in the quarter and the impact of the World Cup, which was shown across its estate.

The company's shares dropped 25 per cent after the May update, but have risen in recent days on anticipation of better trading news.

Seymour Pierce analyst Hugh-Guy Lorriman raised his rating on the stock from sell to hold following the statement. He added: "Most pub groups have been reporting positive like-for-like trading trends in the second quarter of 2010, especially those with a London and South-East bias."

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Wetherspoon, which plans to open new pubs at a rate of 50 a year, described the performance of recently opened sites as "encouraging".

"We continue to believe there are substantial opportunities for us to acquire sites at reasonable prices," it added in a trading update.

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