Christmas boost for pubs group Marston’s

Marston’s (LSE: MARS) raised a glass to a “strong” Christmas in a trading update today, as impressive growth over the holiday helped offset a more subdued start to December.

The group said that sales growth for the four months to January 18 increased by 1%, but this rose to 4.5% over Christmas itself.

In Marston’s Beer Company, volumes were behind the prior year, due to a weaker performance from the Off-Trade segment in December, particularly with lager sales.

Marston’s said second half costs would increase by an £2m – £3m due to a higher-than-expected rise in Britain’s minimum wage from April.

The company, which is aiming to cut debt by £200m by 2023 through an accelerated disposals programme, said it would increase its sell-off proceeds target to £85m – £90m from £70m. Thus far Marston’s has completed the disposals of £60m worth of its pubs.

Chief executive Ralph Findlay said: “Marston’s has delivered a creditable performance in a challenging market. Trading in the key Christmas fortnight was good and has remained solid since which is encouraging.”

He added that “greater clarity on the political agenda should positively impact consumer confidence”, which pointed to a growing market in 2020.

Last year Marston’s made a £20m loss, swinging from a profit of £54.3m the year before, largely due to a rise in operating costs.

Shares were down over 6% by early afternoon.

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