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Tue 27th Mar 2012 - Great Northern Inns, Greene King and Bloomsbury

Story of the day:

Multi-site pub company to start brewing: Highly-rated Great Northern Inns, which runs seven pubs in the Nottingham area, will start brewing after converting outbuildings at its latest acquisition to a brewery. The company, led by Dave Willans and Les Howard, acquired the Trent Navigation pub in Nottingham’s Meadow Lane last year – and decided to convert the pub’s large Victorian outbuildings in the home of the newly-formed Navigation Brewery. The brewery, which will officially launch in May, will produce five regular brews - a traditional bitter, a pale ale, a porter, a blonde and an IPA. Head brewer will be Dom Flynn, who was previously head brewer at Sheffield’s Kelham Island Brewery. His time at Kelham Island coincided with winning Champion Beer of Great Britain at the Great British Beer Festival for Pale Rider ale in 2004. Nottingham is already well-provided with brewers with the city hosting Nottingham Brewery, Blue Monkey and Castle Rock. The news of the opening of the Navigation Brewery has already been well-received by the Nottinghamshire branch of Camra. Chairman Steve Westby said: “This company has such a good selection of pubs already. It seems to make such a success of them and they all tend to be a little bit different. They really have got a remarkable track record – I’m sure they’ll make a success of their brewery.” The brewery will host an official opening on 10 May where England and Nottinghamshire fast bowler Stuart Broad will be doing the honours. It is currently running a competition in which locals are being asked to suggest a name for its summer ale.

Industry news:

Banks hold £1bn of sector debt in need of repaying or writing down: Leading sector mergers and acquisitions firm Sapient Corporate Finance has reported UK banks still have £1bn of debt in the pub, bar and nightclub sector that will need to be repaid or written down. Sapient, which has advised on 70 per cent of sector transactions in the past five years, said the debt overhang will “lead to further disposals, particularly in the high street market”. Peter Hansen, founder of Sapient, told the Numis Securities leisure conference: “In the next 12 months, banks will be deciding which businesses they have that they like and which businesses they think they can exit or are not a platform worth keeping.” Hansen reported that total debt, including bank and securitised debt, in the pub, bar and nightclub sector had declined by £5bn in the last four years. Almost half of this reduction has been achieved by disposing of pubs, either individually or in groups – such as the sale of Mitchells & Butlers wet-led pubs to Stonegate Pub Company, and the more recent sale of the RBS Galaxy estate to Heineken. Hansen forecast that private equity activity in the sector is likely to step up in the next two or three years. Fresh debt, though, remains really difficult to raise for sums in excess of £25m. Hansen told the conference that the market for individual sales of bottom-end tenanted pubs remained strong with Punch Taverns achieving an average sale value of £280,000 and Admiral Taverns selling several hundred pubs in the past few years for a little under £200,000 each. The sale of pubs to repay debt by Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns would provide opportunities for individual or small package acquisitions. He added: “Operators of tied leases should consider buying the freehold of their tied pub should it become available. This works well when the tied operator’s income exceeds the pubco’s income, as is particularly likely with food-driven pubs.” 

British economy in zombie recovery: The US economy is recovering faster than the UK because it’s cleaning up its debt quicker with a tough stance on pushing over-leveraged households into default so reducing overall household debt figures, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, has told the Numis Securities leisure conference. In the UK, 60 per cent of the mortgage book of one well-known bank is interest payment only. The result was “zombie banks and a “zombie economy”. “We need to clean up the economy, not just print money,” he argued. He said the lesson had been that governments should avoid “credit bubbles”, adding, “but politicians love growth so it’s hard to resist”. The quantitative easing policy has cut the severity of the recession by half but means that the recovery has been pushed out over five to seven years, he added.

Analyst - minimum pricing is tacit support for the pub: Deutsche Bank analyst Geof Collyer has argued that the proposed introduction of minimum pricing is tacit recognition that the pub is not the root of all binge-drinking. He said: “The debate is a complicated one. However, for an industry that has been beleaguered by political intervention not necessarily driven by fiscal imperatives like taxation for the best part of 40 years - the latest being the smoking ban - perhaps it should at least welcome this initiative as it does seem to provide some support for the industry - in terms of narrowing the on-trade / off-trade price gap - and a tacit acknowledgement that pubs may not be the root problem of all binge-drinking that some commentators and daily newspapers try and lead us to believe they are.”

Minimum pricing means bills of up to £71 a year for moderate drinkers: A minimum price of 40p a unit for alcohol will cost moderate drinkers, who drink one bottle of wine a week, between £40 and £71 per annum, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Authors of the study Andrew Leicester and Martin O’Connell argue the policy is a “very significant intervention” that will also affect people who drink within “healthy” limits.

City analyst French downgrades sector on rising petrol price concerns: Simon French, analyst at Panmure Gordon, has downgraded the travel and leisure sector on concerns over rising oil and petrol prices. However, he was upgraded his recommendation on community pub operators Spirit Pub Company and JD Wetherspoon. He said: “Record petrol prices have the potential to alter longer-term leisure habits with consumers reassessing the need to travel meaningful distances to undertake regular out of the home leisure activities. “In particular, we have less confidence in our earnings forecasts for those companies with operations located a car drive or more away from the home. Some of this demand weakness may be absorbed by more community-based operations.” He said he was now less confident of earnings forecasts for destination-led operators, downgrading The Restaurant Group from “Buy” to “Hold’ and Mitchells & Butlers from “Hold” to “Sell”. However, he argued that demand could shift to community-based operators so upgraded Spirit Pub Company and JD Wetherspoon from “Hold” to “Buy”. His note, issued yesterday morning, comes in the wake of petrol prices moving to 139p a litre and the proposed 3p a litre duty increase set for August.

Company news:

Gastro-pioneers open Fat of the Land next month: Gastro-pub pioneers Michael Kittos and Tony Wolfe, who operate QHA Limited, will re-open the Duke of York on Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street next month as The Fat of the Land. The company has taken the pub on a nil premium with a passing rent of £92,500 per annum. Kittos and Wolfe opened the second ever gastro-pub, the Peasant in Clerkenwell, which they later sold. They currently operate The Queen's Head and Artichoke close to Regents Park and the Norfolk Arms, near Russell Square. The new venue will serve pan-Meditteranean food.

Warm weekend boosts pubs with gardens: TLC Inns, the six-site operator led by Steve Haslam and Jo Drain, has reported the unusually warm weekend weather provided a trading boost, with Saturday particularly strong. Said Haslam: “We calculate that every one degree centigrade above 16 degrees centigrade is worth £5,000 per centigrade in takings across the six pubs. It was a better Saturday than Sunday – Sunday was just a couple of degrees centigrade short of being comfortable in our gardens. A really sunny and warm Sunday can be worth between £20,000 and £30,000 across our pubs.” Among the best performers were the Cutter in Ely, Cambridgeshire, which took £20,000 across the weekend and the White Horse in Ramsden Heath, Essex, which had takings of £16,000. “It’s great weather for March, though – it’s the sort of weather and takings that shouldn’t be happening until April and May.”

Crime drops by 40 per cent at flagship Oceania: Crime levels inside Luminar’s flagship Oceana nightclub in Kingston have dropped by 40 per cent under new management, Kingston police have said. Detective Chief Superinndent Greenslade said until new management took over, the police spent “more time telling them how to run a nightclub than we should have been”. He said: “In fact, I could probably set up my own night club with the knowledge I have, but that’s not my job.” A barrier stopping people gathering outside the entrance had cut dispersal times by 20 to 30 minutes, he said. The number of crimes inside the club decreased from 254 in 2010 to 158 in 2011. In 2008, the Surrey Comet reported police had been called to the area in and around Oceana 346 times in six months – a rate of almost twice a night. Stephen Lynn, of Luminar Group, said: “We are delighted with the drop. “The new manager Dan Corry was put in October 2010 and he has worked extremely hard to improve the club.”

Leisure entrepreneur returns to open pub: Pub entrepreneur John Miller has come out of semi-retirement to re-open The Woodmancote Arms, in Woodmancote, near Chichester, a pub closed for nine months. Miller ran a chain of pubs and restaurants along the south coast, including the Bosham Inn in Bosham and the Winterton Arms in Boxgrove until he started to spend more time in Spain. The Woodmancote will re-open in a few weeks’ time after an extensive refit of the bar and dining area as well as the addition of a cosy library room where visitors will be able to relax in big chairs.

Euston Tap founder hits the buffers in Cambridge: Bloomsbury Leisure Group, the company led by Jonathan Dalton that operates The Euston Tap in a joint venture with Jamie Hawksworth, has dropped its plan to open The Cambridge Tap at Cambridge train station. The plan was to sell 27 different beers. Dalton said: “We spent a lot of money on the venture but hit problems with the agent of the property, so cannot open up on the site. We are very disappointed. We put in a lot of time, effort and money. However, we haven’t given up because we love Cambridge.” Bloomsbury Leisure Group opened a new pub concept called Father’s Study in Holborn in November last year. The company also operates Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes and Ray’s Pizza brand and runs Pivni Bar in York as part of the joint venture with Hawksworth. 

Fuller’s picks up first Bath pub as part of Enterprise deal: London brewer and retailer Fuller’s picked up its first pub in Bath as part of the deal to buy 17 pubs from Enterprise Inns for £25.4m, it’s been revealed. Fuller’s has bought the Boater, an 18th century pub that overlooks the Pulteney Weir. The next nearest Fuller’s pubs to Bath are in Chew Magna, Bristol and Chippenham. The Boater will join Fuller’s managed division.

Wetherspoon named as one of Britain’s Top Employers for 2012: JD Wetherspoon has been voted one of the UK’s top 67 employers. It is the ninth consecutive year that Wetherspoon has been certified by the CRF Institute, the independent organisation behind the Top Employers project. The certification is based on independent research that shows that Wetherspoon has “outstanding HR policies and offers excellent working conditions”. The company achieved the following star scores (with 3 being good and 5 being excellent); primary benefits (5 stars), secondary benefits and working conditions (4.5 stars), training and development (4.5 stars), career development (5 stars) and company culture (4.5 stars). Wetherspoon’s legal and personnel director Su Cacioppo said: “We are extremely proud to be named as one of Britain’s Top Employers 2012”. Wetherspoon employs more than 28,000 staff.

South African entrepreneur to open pub/tapas bar fusion: South African businessman Richard Findlay is to convert the Old Bath Arms in Frome’s Palmer Street to a traditional pub that combines a Spanish tapas bar offering. He said: “What we plan to offer is something completely different. Tapas is a fun and modern concept which we think will be really popular with women.” Findlay previously ran the Masons Arms in Warminster.

Brakspear puts Dog and Duck on the market: Henley-based pub operator Brakspear has placed the Dog & Duck in Highmoor on the market with a £495,000 asking price. Former licensees John and Ann Cook took over the pub in August 2009 after moving from Dorset but struggled to make the business work and left in December. Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies said: “The Dog and Duck is for sale as it became an unviable business as a pub. Selling a pub is always a last resort for Brakspear.”

Alan Watkins opens fifth pub, plans fourth micro brewery: Award-winning entrepreneur Alan Watkins has taken over his fifth pub, The Fox at Leafield, a pub that was threatened with closure. Watkins said: “When I first heard the pub was on the market I drove up there on the same day. It’s lovely traditional Cotswold pub.” Watkins also runs the Swan Inn, Faringdon, the Radnor Arms in Coleshill, just outside Faringdon as well as two Gloucestershire pubs, The Crown Inn in Lechdale and the Marlborough Arms in Fairford – three of his pubs have micro-breweries on site. The Radnor Arms has won local and regional awards from Camra. The Swan Inn is owned by Oak Taverns.

Firework display linked to huge fire at Greene King hotel: Greene King has been forced to close the 18-bedroom Ryde Castle Hotel on the Isle of Wight for the “foreseeable future” after a fire caused the partial collapse of the hotel. Local media report a fireworks display at a wedding may be linked to the fire – fireworks had been set off from the roof of the hotel. A Greene King statement said: “We are deeply upset about the damage to this historic building and it is our intention to restore it as soon as possible.”

Starbucks to quit expensive Oxford Street: Starbucks has instructed property agent CBRE to put the leases of its three Oxford Street shops on the market after deciding the location is too expensive. The move is part of Starbucks’ desire to concentrate on locations off the main streets of the capital, in search of more upmarket, and cheaper, venues. It has already moved out of Regent Street in favour of three stores in nearby Conduit, Princes and Vigo streets - the last one will open next month. Kris Engskov, Starbucks’ UK managing director, told the Evening Standard: “Fourteen years ago when we came to the UK, we needed to be on Oxford Street to build our brand but now people know us we don’t need to be there.”

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