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Pub company Punch to keep Spirit Group, for now

22 May 2006

Leased and tenanted pub owner Punch Taverns is to keep the Spirit Group, the managed house operation it bought earlier this year, for now.

Punch has earmarked a further 380 Spirit pubs for disposal, which will be sold off individually or as packages.

On acquisition in January Spirit had 1,830 pubs. Punch is in the process of converting as many as 740 pubs to leased operations, which will leave it with 680 managed pubs in the core Spirit estate operating under brands such as Chef & Brewer.

Chief executive Giles Thorley said after a streamlining process at the Spirit managed estate, which contributed eight weeks trading in the first six months of the year, it had performed well, but he did not rule out a sale of the remainder.

"We'll park the question of whether we are going to sell them for now, as the current conversion to lease process will take us until next summer," he said.

Punch is also holding onto the Spirit business to provide the head office support and infrastructure needed to carry out the conversion process.

Thorley said he had been impressed how well Chef & Brewer had traded during the past few years despite the uncertainty surrounding it's parent company. He added the brand would provide traction if the company eventually decided on selling.

He declined to comment on reports that Spirit's Old Orleans restaurant brand was on the market for £20m to £30m.

Punch said although trading was down marginally in Scotland compared with the north of England, the effect of the smoking ban had so far been negligible and it had actually won back custom from those that had stopped going to pubs due to the smoke.

Group turnover in the 28 weeks ended 4 March increased 53% to £619m (2005: £103m). Pre-tax profit and exceptional items was up 13% to £116m (2005: £103m).

Old Orleans up for sale >>

OFT won't refer Punch to the Competition Committee >>

By Chris Druce

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