Midlands brewer and pub operator Marston's has reported year pre-tax profits for 2009 more than 13 per cent lower than last year, but said it had seen signs of improvement in recent weeks.
Despite announcing group turnover for the year to October 3, 2009, down 1.4 per cent at £451m, pre-tax profits of £70.3m down 13.7 per cent and operating margins down 1.1 percentage points, chief executive Ralph Findlay was relatively upbeat about current trading.
"This was a creditable performance in a very challenging period. In addition, the improvement in trading we experienced over the second half-year has continued in recent weeks, and we have made an encouraging start to the new financial year.
"Although we are cautious about predicting recovery, we have good pubs and popular regional ales which are performing well. We have a strong platform to make further progress over the coming year."
Underlying earnings per share were 13.4p, down from 18.3p in 2008, while the group proposed to pay a total dividend for 2009 of 7.14p, down from 9.25p last year.
The group's managed 496 pubs saw total revenue down 3.6 per cent to £367.8m "principally reflecting the transfer of 47 smaller pubs to Marston's Pub Company in 2008". Underlying operating profit of £60.3m was down 6.5 per cent, while average profit per pub increased from £117,000 to £120,000.
Marston's tenanted estate, comprising 1,688 pubs, saw total revenue fall 3.9 per cent to £175.8m, "principally reflecting reduced volumes sold to tenants and lessees". Underlying operating profit was £81.8m, down seven per cent, including approximately £3m of additional support costs for licensees.
Average profit per pub fell from £51,000 to £48,000.
Marston's said around 80 per cent of pubs in the tenanted and leased estate achieved like-for-like profits in line with last year, while the weakest 20 per cent required "more intensive management".
The group's brewing operation saw turnover up 13.2 per cent to £101.5m. Underlying operating profit increased 3.9 per cent to £16.0m.
On current trading Marston's said it had seen "an encouraging start to the new year".
Marston's managed pub arm, Inns and Taverns, had seen like-for-like sales up 3.1 per cent in the eight weeks to November 28, 2009, "including food sales growth of 5.3 per cent and drink
sales up by 1.6 per cent.
Marston's tenanted Pub Company for the same 8 week period saw like-for-like profits "around five per cent below last year representing an improvement in the rate of profit decline reported for the 2009 financial year".
Marston's Beer Company is "performing in line with our expectations", the group said.