JD Wetherspoon posts solid rise in sales as pub market struggles

Pub group JD Wetherspoon has posted a solid rise in sales, bucking the trend in a pub market struggling to beat last year’s World Cup summer.

Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin visits his Beckett's Bank pub in Leeds city centre, to talk about the economic advantages of leaving the EU without a deal. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe 5th December 2018.

The value pub chain said like-for-like sales in the 10 weeks to July 7 were up 6.9 per cent, consistent with growth in the year to date of 6.7 per cent.

Total sales were up 6.9 per cent in recent weeks and 7.4 per cent in the year so far.

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The numbers show strong growth against a tough backdrop, with several other operators reporting that disappointing weather since May and the lack of the Fifa World Cup has hit sales compared with 2018.

Despite the sales increase, Wetherspoon’s shrank its estate, with five new openings offset by nine disposals in the year to date.

The group expects to book a £3m exceptional loss after some of the disposals came under balance sheet value.

The company has also invested £71m in buying up freeholds for its pubs.

Alasdair Ronald, of Brewin Dolphin, said the company’s sales growth showed the success of its “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” policy, but pointed to tight margins as a possible issue.

“One issue of specific concern is the company’s ability and willingness to pass on price increases to offset input cost pressure, which has been weighing on its operating margins - in fact, the business has the lowest margins of the large UK pub companies.”

Chairman and founder Tim Martin said the company’s expectations for full-year performance remain unchanged.

A prominent Brexit campaigner, Mr Martin also reiterated his calls for the Government to adopt a no-deal exit from the European Union, which he termed a “multi-deal” approach.

“The term no-deal really means ‘multi-deal’ - a multitude of deals agreed between individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations,” he said.