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Wetherspoons sales rise over festive period but debt forecasts creep upwards

In the 12 weeks to 19 January, the publican reported like-for-like sales growth of 4.7%, with total sales rising 4.2%

JD Wetherspoon - Wetherspoons sales rise over festive period but debt forecasts creep upwards

Publican JD Wetherspoon PLC (LON:JDW) has cheered higher sales over the festive period, however investors seemed hesitant as the company increased its net debt guidance.

Like-for-like (LFL) sales for the 12 weeks to 19 January were up 4.7% on the same period last year, with total sales rising 4.2%, the FTSE 250 group reported in a trading update on Wednesday.

READ: JD Wetherspoon to create 10,000 new jobs through four-year pub opening plan

For the 25 weeks of its financial year to date, LFL sales are up 5% with total sales rising 4.9%.

Net debt at the end of its current year is now expected to be “slightly higher than previously anticipated” at between £780-£820mln as a result of higher capital expenditure.

The company is also planning to open another 10-15 new pubs in the current year, having already opened one and sold another five.

Martin's moans

Looking ahead, chairman Tim Martin said the firm continued to expect trading for the current year will be in line with previous expectations.

The Spoons boss also delivered a familiar Brexit-related tirade against what he dubbed “pro-remain organisations” such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Food and Drink Federation “doubling down on ‘project fear’ stories”.

He also once again turned his guns on the UK’s corporate governance rules and hedge funds Columbia Threadneedle and BlackRock for creating “short-termist and inexperienced boards” through the enforcement of director term limits, which he said were “obviously damaging for customers, employees and the economy - as well as for shareholders”.

The outburst is a continuation of similar criticism by Martin in a Wetherspoons update in November last year.

Analysts at broker Liberum said that while the current share price seemed to be “pricing in a Brexit bounce/margin recovery story”, they were cautious about the company’s ability to translate higher sales into profit growth in the face of rising wages and repair cost inflation.

They stayed with their ‘hold’ recommendation and 1,550p target price, exactly the same as broker Peel Hunt, where analysts said that despite the increase in net debt they were retaining their full-year pre-tax profit forecast of £103.8mln, although added that there could be “additional upside” if the company adjusted its pricing.

The shares, meanwhile, were mostly flat in early deals, down 0.5% at 1,587p.

Quick facts: JD Wetherspoon

Price: 1505 GBX

LSE:JDW
Market: LSE
Market Cap: £1.58 billion
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