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East Anglia: First half profits at Punch Taverns ‘in line with expectations’ as debt talks continue

PUBLISHED: 12:49 15 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:35 15 April 2014

Punch Taverns of its executive chairman Stephen Billingham.

Punch Taverns of its executive chairman Stephen Billingham.

Pubs group Punch Taverns, which is battling to agree a restructuring of its debts, today reported first half profits “in line with management expectations”.

Revenues for the 28 weeks to March 1 fell to £233.5m, from £243.3m in the corresponding period a year ago, and operating profit declined to £85.6m from £104.3m, largely reflecting restructuring and other one-off costs and impairment losses on the value on its property estate.

Before what Punch classed as “non-underlying items”, there was a pre-tax profit of £49.7m, compared with £26.2m at last year’s half-way stage. However, this year’s figure included a £29.9m contribution from the redemption of loan notes.

And after non-underlying items, including finance costs of £214.7m, Punch was left with a bottom line pre-tax loss of £174.9m, against a loss of £16.7m for last year’s first half.

However, the company insisted that it remained on course to deliver on its business plan and to meet its expectations for full-year profits, with average profit per pub up 4% across its entire estate of 3,956 sites during the first half.

Investment and disposal plans were also on track, it added, with investments completed at 170 of its core pubs, at an average spend of around £90,000, and 140 pubs and other assets having been sold for £51m, £6m ahead of book value.

Punch is Britain’s second biggest pub owner and has a strong presence in East Anglia where, as a result of past mergers and acquistions, it includes a number of former Tolly Cobbold pubs.

The company also said today that “extensive engagement” was continuing in relation to its debt pile and that the board “remains of the view that a consensual restructuring is in the best interests of all stakeholders”.

Separate meetings of Punch A and Punch B noteholders have been convened for April 29 to seek waivers on some covenant terms in order to avoid the risk of a near-term default, which in the case of the Punch A securitisation could occcur as early as May 15.

Punch’s executive chairman, Stephen Billingham, said today: “We have delivered profits for the half year in line with our expectations.

“Our results reflect the significant operational changes we have made over the last 15 months which are now embedded in the business. We have returned the core estate to growth and delivered a 4% improvement in average profit per pub across our 4,000 pub estate.

“We are on track to deliver our full year profit expectations and start the second half of the year backed by the increased level of partner operational support that will further strengthen the performance of our pubs.”

He added: “Proactive engagement on the restructuring discussions is continuing and we urge all stakeholders to support the covenant waiver requests to provide the business with stability and time to effect a consensual restructuring of the group’s financing arrangements.”

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