January 8, 2019 / 7:24 AM / 10 months ago

Record Christmas sales cheer Greene King investors

(Reuters) - More Britons headed to the pub for a pint over Christmas and New Year, Greene King GNK.L said on Tuesday as it reported higher sales and record numbers on Christmas Day itself.

The company said comparable sales for Pub Company, through which it manages its chain of 2,900 pubs, restaurants and hotels, rose 10.9 percent in the last two weeks of the year.

The brewer’s strong sales mirrored those from the owner of Slug and Lettuce pub chain Stonegate Pub Company IPO-SPC.L, which last week reported higher sales.

Greene King, which brews beers including Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale, said comparable sales at its pubs rose 3.2 percent for the 36-week period ended Jan. 6, 2019.

The company’s shares were 3.6 percent higher at 573 pence at 1015 GMT. Shares in peers Marston’s (MARS.L), Mitchells & Butlers (MAB.L) and Ei Group (EIGE.L) were also pushed higher.

Greene King’s latest Christmas trading update was in stark contrast to the same period last year, which was marred by snowy and icy weather in the UK.

Greene King’s long-time Chief Executive Officer Rooney Anand will step down and a successor will be announced early in 2019, the company said in November.

The company has also been battling rising costs from a minimum wage increase, higher property prices, a Brexit-spurred slide in sterling and a move away from pub drinking by younger Britons.

“Encouragingly trading has become more consistent with growth in both drink and food sales ... While January is expected to be challenging as more people embrace dry/vegan January, the outlook remains confident,” Liberum analyst Anna Barnfathe, said.

GRAPHIC: Greene King leads Britain's pub crawl - tmsnrt.rs/2H1oVSv

Greene King said uncertainty from Britain’s impending exit from the European Union could still hurt consumer spending during the year.

The pub operator said in November that it was making contingency plans to protect against disruption if Britain leaves the trading bloc without a deal.

“We believe ongoing political-economic uncertainty, particularly around Brexit, has materially undermined Greene King’s share price, yet the company’s LFL sales are continuing to accelerate,” Peel Hunt analysts said.

The Suffolk-based company, which owns the Chef and Brewer and Hungry Horse pubs, said it was on track to dispose of 100 to 110 pubs.

Reporting by Karina Dsouza in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr/Keith Weir

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