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Punch Taverns presses on with pubs sale

PUNCH Taverns, Scotland's biggest landlord, said it plans to sell 400 more pubs as it continues to encounter "challenging" market conditions.

Since 2011, the company has sold some 798 pubs, while retaining around 5000 UK-wide.

Its Scottish estate now stands at 279 pubs, down from 362 after it split with Spirit Pub Company in 2011.

Chief executive Roger Whiteside said: "Our performance in the first 16 weeks of the financial year has been in line with management expectations."

Mr Whiteside added: "While the UK consumer environment is likely to remain challenging for at least the near-term, we continue to make good progress with our clear operational plan to return the core estate to growth in the medium-term and to extract maximum value from our non-core assets."

Punch reported that the average profit per pub is stable and the overall profit performance is in line with management expectations.

"We have achieved this despite the challenging market conditions which continued during the first quarter," the company said.

Since starting its disposal of the pubs it regarded as non-core, Punch announced that it has raised some £193 million.

"We expect to sell circa 400 non-core pubs in the current financial year, having disposed of 86 pubs in the current quarter (including 11 pubs from the core estate) for proceeds of £26m," the company said.

It said it expects income from the core estate to decline in this financial year, and is currently down 5% on a like-for-like basis.

This will pick up again next year, the company predicted.

The level of pub failures is in line with last year, with just 176 in its core division available for letting.

Simon French, analyst at Panmure Gordon, wrote in a note to clients that he expects Punch to conduct a debt-for-equity swap.

Mark Brumby, analyst at Shore Capital, wrote: "Punch's shares remain an option on the group successfully navigating its way through very difficult waters and are unlikely to be considered 'investable' by most would-be holders."

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