Has the bubble burst, or begun to deflate somewhat, on private equity involvement in the pub market? If not, has the sector at last become wise to property and private equity players snapping up companies for a song, only to flog them back to the market in another guise - the classic churn operation?
I only ask because from conversations I've had in the last week one gets the sense that while these operators are still sniffing around the market, investors in listed pub groups are becoming increasingly wary when it comes to the prospect of handing over whatever upside there is in their holdings.
True, the likes of family brewers, faced with tough markets and mounting costs will opt to take the money now - to wit, Greene King's completion of its £271m acquisition of Hardys & Hansons. But those with shares in larger groups, whose growth prospects have a more radiant hue, may choose to exercise more patience. Why sell for £7.50 a share when, if you are prepared to hang on 18 months, you may well see your investment rise to £8.50 with all the concomitant benefits - dividends and the like - that go along with it?
There's also the question of what these private equity types do with the companies once they've got 'em. It's ground I've covered before - heart versus head and all that - but there is a practical point to this; irrespective of their commitment to running Great British Pubs, some don't have the necessary means to make an acquisition work to its optimum level.
GI Partners' infrastructure agreement with Punch, concerning the ex-Spirit pubs it bought recently, runs out at the end of the year. R20 selling up to GI - sharp intake of breath - would conveniently tidy up this area, if indeed Tchenguiz's interest in the sector is waning. Although that wouldn't be the end of the challenge for the US property group...