City Diary — 25 September

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Rent review Great british pub Renting

All the latest gossip and rumour from the City.

Einhorn eyes new horizons

City Diary's email buddy David Einhorn — he sends very polite replies to slightly cheeky requests for chats — emerges from investment bank Lehman Brothers' collapse looking like a visionary. Einhorn, who runs Starlight Capital hedge fund and is Punch Taverns largest investor, with a stake of 9.73% in the company, "took against" Lehman earlier than most. Last December, when Lehman's shares were trading above $65, Einhorn told Reuters the company was not taking proper write-downs. The boyish-looking 39-year-old may well have made a few bob shorting Lehman Brothers. Interesting to see what he does now with his stake in Punch.

Go directly to jail — your turn

The jailing of bar operators Gary Hibberd and Timothy Allen was one hot topic at last week's Morning Advertiser Great British Pub Awards. Almost everyone had a story about them. City Diary's favourite involved a tenanted pubco exec who was thinking of letting a pub to them back in the '90s. The executive was given a "Christmas present" — an envelope stuffed with cash. He had to explain politely that this wasn't the way it worked…

The ups and downs

Proof that tenanted pubs' rents can go down as well as up. Nick Light, Enterprise Inns divisional director for the Home Counties, told a recent BII Rent Review seminar that 140 pubs in the estate have seen a downward rent review since October 2007. And arbitration remains rare. Of all its rent review negotiations, only 17 are in dispute and going to arbitration.

Real generosity of Spirit

A recommendation worth heeding: Fleurets chairman Barry Gillham thinks the current batch of 50 Spirit pubs being converted to lease are a bit of a bargain. "They're the best deal I've seen for 10 years. The rents are two thirds of what I asked for at Voyager pubs five years ago." No self-interest here — they're marketed by fellow property agent Christie+Co.

Welsh price clash hots up

The quiet town of Chepstow, in Wales, is seeing a clash of the Titans. Both JD Wetherspoon (JDW) and Barracuda have opened a pub in the town in the past six months. The price- watch poster in JDW's the Bell Hanger shows it's undercutting Barracuda's George by around 50p on a basket of drinks costing around £22. (It all comes down to a double Smirnoff and Red Bull costing 71p more in the George). Both are losing out, though, to the Five Alls, where the same round of drinks costs just £19.70, according to the JDW poster.

The truth, the whole truth

Such is the influence of the Morning Advertiser that when we make a mistake, other august organs repeat it without checking. Last month, we reported Robert Tchenguiz had bought back leases on about 80 of the 90 ex-Laurel pubs he put into administration in March. In fact, it was a tidying-up exercise related to sites he was already running. "The latest deal means Mr Tchenguiz has taken back control of all but about 10 of the former Laurel sites," reported the Daily Telegraph erroneously, after we intimated as much. He certainly hadn't done so, and we regret the mistake — but other people are going to have to start sourcing and checking their own stories.

Twenty down, but lots still to go

Of the 90 Laurel pubs that have been left in administration with Kroll, five have gone to JD Wetherspoon and one has been taken on by Inventive Leisure. And what has happened to the rest? A few of the sites have simply been taken back by their freehold owner, Tesco has taken on two, with brand-new leases, and a smattering have gone to private individuals. And what about the rest? Says one source: "About 20 have been sold so far." So that leaves the vast majority of the dumped sites still tenantless.

No Matlock move for Marston's

Disappointment is rife in Matlock, Derbyshire, where Marston's has pulled out of a proposed deal to build a pub at the town's new leisure centre development. Spokesman for Marston's, Jeremy Eaton, said: "We are disappointed not to be completing. The company has withdrawn its interest due to abnormal ground conditions and the fact that the size of the site is not suited to our business."

Last-chance Blackpool saloon

It's crunch time at one Blackpool pub, with Marston's keeping its options open. The firm has submitted plans to build shops and flats on the Welcome pub site. But the current licensees have taken three years to turn it around. Landlord Julie Trotter told the local newspaper: "There are two parts to the brewery: one half wants to keep the pub open and the other sees a £1.5m block of land it can sell. We've signed a three-year tenancy agreement, during which they won't do anything. After two years, if we show we've really made improvements, we can extend that to five years."

Sporting chance with Greene King

Some pubs are proving pretty hard to let in the current climate. Full marks are due, then, to Greene King, which is offering to pay for Sky Sport for the first year at some of its venues.

Related topics Professional Services & Utilities

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