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BACK in December 2019, the UK's pubs and restaurants made, on average, £21,373 more in sales during that one month than the average for the rest of the year. Pub group Marston's (MARS) will be hoping those times make a welcome return in Christmas 2021.

A year ago the Midlands-based pub chain was looking at a 30% hit to sales due to the UK's nationwide lockdown, which left its 1,471 UK-wide pubs closed for months on end. On Wednesday next week we are due to get a year-end trading statement, ahead of full-year results due out on 30 November.

Investors will be hoping that this year’s picture is very different. Not least because it is now also almost a year on from the £780 million merger of its brewing business with Carlsberg, which it forecast should bring in initial net proceeds of £230 million. So far though there has been little on the success of the Carlsberg deal, which gives Marston's a 40% holding in Carlsberg Marston's Brewing Company.

At the latest update covering the 42 weeks to 24 July - a period which was still largely blighted by lockdowns, outside-only hospitality until May and then ‘rule of six’ restrictions until the summer - Marston’s, like its competitors, had little uptick to report on.

But there was increasing positivity about the immediate future. Marston’s said that since 17 May, overall sales had been “encouraging” and even “better than our expectations”. The delayed Euro 2020 tournament should have helped and the fact that 90% of its venues had outside space put the pub group in a better position than many of its competitors.

Marston’s has also grown in size since the start of 2021, adding eight more pubs from SA Brain & Co to its estate; adding to the 156 pubs it acquired from Brains last year.

Marston’s said the group has performed well since reopening, with those providing accommodation well placed to thrive during a summer in which staycations were all that was available, as restrictions on international travel persisted.

There is no doubt that the past 18 months have been even harder than usual for any pub group, as JD Wetherspoon showed when it posted a record loss of £154.7 million last week.

Nationwide staff shortages are still an industry-wide problem and the end to the temporary reduction in VAT to 5% for certain hospitality businesses introduced during the pandemic, will be sorely missed.

The one note of cheer is the potential for this to be a better Christmas than the last one. Marston’s and its shareholders will be hoping so anyway. The figures for last Christmas and New Year certainly make for grim reading. Sales across the UK's chain pubs and restaurants for the five weeks from 30 November 2020 to 3 January 2021 were down by 73% on the same period pre-pandemic, according to an industry report.1

More on Marston’s


1 CGA Strategy

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