Spirit is still for sale if the price is right

16 November 2006
Spirit is still for sale if the price is right

Punch Taverns‘ managed pub business, Spirit, remains for sale at the right price, Punch chief executive Giles Thorley has admitted.

"It comes down to what we would get for selling (Spirit) and what we'd use the cash for short-term, versus the long-term benefit to shareholders of keeping it," Thorley said, unveiling strong full-year financial figures last week.

But Thorley insisted this position did not affect Spirit's position as "core business" for Punch. "We'll continue to buy pubs to add to it when and where the opportunity arises, as demonstrated by our Mill House Inns purchase," he said.

Punch has entered its final conversion stage for the Spirit estate, with 266 managed pubs expected to be converted to lease by next summer. On completion, almost 600 will have been transformed.

Thorley also said he was confident of managing the move to a totally smoke-free environment next year. Trading at the company's 493 Scottish pubs was largely unharmed after the start of the smoking ban in March, with strong food sales growth.

"Fifty to 60% of our pubs are serving food now," he said. "But you don't have to serve meals to prosper post-ban - you just need to understand what your strategy is for handling the change."

In the 52 weeks ended 19 August 2006, Punch turnover was up 101% to £1.5b (up from £770m in 2005), thanks to the acquisition of the Spirit estate. Pre-tax profit increased 21% to £250m (up from £207m).

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