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New Year blues? What New Year blues? asks Greene King

From The Publican

By Hamish Champ , 28-Jan-2009

Greene King said today it has yet to see any evidence of a post-New Year slowdown, but still expects the rest of the year to be tough.

"The anticipated post-New Year slowdown has not, as yet, taken place, but we remain very cautious as to trading prospects for 2009, and we anticipate that the outlook for the rest of the year will remain very challenging," it said in an interim management statement, published today.

While it was "very cautious" about trading prospects for 2009, the Suffolk brewer said that in the 38 weeks to January 25 its tenanted and leased estate saw underlying like-for-like profits down 5.3 per cent, mainly driven - according to the group - by a decline in beer volumes and the rising cost of licensee support measures.

The brewer was at pains to stress that such "health measures" as were being handed out remained "largely unchanged".

"Our [recent] re-organisation of the division into Core and Independent pubs will play an important role in adapting our business to face the most extreme trading conditions we and our licensees have seen," it said in an interim management statement, published today.

The brewer's performance impressed investors, who pushed its shares up 51p - 14.5 per cent - to 402.75p.

Greene King's managed pub estate saw like-for-like sales down 1.1 per cent over the 38 weeks, with a 2.4 per cent uplift in the last two months.

At this point last year, the group reported managed total like-for-like sales up 3.4 per cent over a 36 week period, while like-for-like turnover in its tenanted and leased estate rose 1.3 per cent.

In the latest trading period, Greene King said brewing volumes fell 1.5 per cent, although the company claimed the top spot in the premium bottled ale market segment.

The group warned the economic slowdown was having an impact on its Scottish-based Belhaven pubs, but that year-to-date managed like-for-like sales up 2.4 per cent, with beer volumes "well ahead" of the overall Scottish beer market.

Greene King said around £25m of further capital expenditure would have been invested in its estate in the second half of the current financial year, while some 90 pubs had been sold "ahead of net book value" for £35m.

Further disposals were expected, although the group said the rate of sales was likely to slow.

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