JD Wetherspoon aims for 1,000 UK pubs as profits soar | BusinessNews

JD Wetherspoon hopes to soon open its 1,000th pub in the UK after reporting another leap in profits.

The chain currently has more than 800 branches but says its “best estimate” is the potential for around 200 more in the coming years.

It comes as the pub giant revealed that its pre-tax profits soared to £36m in the six months to the end of January – up eightfold from the £4.6m it made during the same period the year before.

Bar sales increased by 11.6%, while food sales grew by 7.6%.

The total number of Wetherspoon pubs peaked at 955 back in December 2015, but since then it has disposed of dozens of sites.

Founder and chairman Sir Tim Martin admitted the firm had a “rush of blood to the head” when it previously expanded, but said it was now acting more strategically in steadily growing its estate across the UK.

He told Sky News’ Business Live with Ian King: “I think what we found was that, in quite a lot of towns, we put two pubs where we should have had one. So we’ve tended to go back to one and enlarge the one that remains.

“So I think we just got a rush of blood to the head.”

When asked when Wetherspoon would open its 1,000th branch, Sir Tim said: “I think it’s quite quick going from 500 to 800 [pubs]but it’s slower filling in the final gaps.

“So I don’t want to put too much of a timescale on it, but probably not much more than a dozen a year”.

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In the six months to the end of January, Wetherspoon said it had sold five pubs, terminated the lease of another five and had sublet a further three sites.

A report on its interim results for the period, published on Friday, said: “In spite of a reduction in the overall number of pubs, sales have continued to increase – total sales are now about one-third higher than in 2015.”

Despite the positive profit figures, Wetherspoon shares fell on Friday morning and were down more than 7% by the afternoon.

It came after the interim results revealed that like-for-like sales growth in February and March so far had slowed to 5.8%, down from 9.9% during the six months to the end of January.

Sir Tim told Sky News he was surprised at the market reaction, as he described Friday’s figures as the “best results we’ve produced for years”.

Writing in the interim results report, Sir Tim said sales were continuing to improve.

He added: “The company currently anticipates a reasonable outcome for the financial year, subject to our future sales performance.”

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Derren Nathan, head of equity research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “A lot of capacity has come out of the market and the hint that there might be a potential of about 1,000 pubs compared to a current total of 814, could see the estate start to grow again.

“That may see the return of dividends kicked further down the road.

“Location is key and recent openings include the Stargazer at the old Millennium Dome in Greenwich and the Star Light at Heathrow Airport. Overall, returning the estate to growth could be a welcome development.”

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