LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - British pub chain JD Wetherspoon posted an 8.5 percent rise in first-half profit and said it was confident in its prospects for the year after a strong start to the second half.
The firm, which has grown to over 900 pubs on demand for its popular food and drinks deals, said on Friday profit before tax and exceptional items for the 26 weeks to Jan. 26 rose to 37.8 million pounds ($63 million), up from 34.8 million a year ago.
First half revenue rose 9.1 percent to 683.2 million pounds, with sales at pubs open over a year up 5.2 percent in the half.
The firm said that momentum had extended into the first 6 weeks of its second half with underlying sales up 6.7 percent.
The group's first half operating margin fell 10 basis points to 8.2 percent, within its guidance of 8.1-8.3 percent for the year. This represents a fall from 8.7 percent in 2012-13 due to investment in IT, staff and training ahead of expansion.
Wetherspoon, which will open its first pubs in the Republic of Ireland in 2014, is aiming for between 40 and 50 new UK openings in 2013-14, a rate it told Reuters in January it expects to achieve for the next decade or so, as it continues it focus on growing sales over margins.
The firm said on Friday it was confident of a "reasonable outcome" for the full-year. According to a Reuters poll of 13 analysts it is expected to post a profit of 78.66 million pounds, up 2.3 percent on 2012-13.
Shares in Wetherspoon closed at 828.5 pence on Thursday, up 65 percent on a year ago, valuing the firm at 1 billion pounds.