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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 4th Feb 2022 - Update: SSP, services sector and Shaftesbury
SSP – good start to the year, group revenues at circa 62% of 2019 levels: SSP Group, the operator of food and beverage outlets in travel locations worldwide, has said it has had a good start to its new financial year, notwithstanding the impact of the Omicron variant of covid-19 on the travel sector. Over the first four months of the financial year, ending 30 September 2022, and covering the period from 1 October 2021 to 30 January 2022, it said that total group revenues were c.62% of 2019 levels. The company said: “As reported at our preliminary results in early December, trading had recovered well over the summer and early autumn, with sales running at circa 66% of 2019 levels in the first nine weeks of the new financial year (1 October to 5 December 2021). This had been led by the rail sector, at circa 71% of 2019 levels, benefitting from a return to office work as well as strengthening leisure traffic, with the Air sector, at circa 62%, boosted by an extended holiday season in the autumn across the UK, Continental Europe and North America. The spread of the Omicron variant around the world and the subsequent government restrictions have inevitably had an impact on passenger numbers in many of our markets, leaving overall group sales in its latest eight weeks (from 6 December to 30 January) at circa 57% of 2019 levels. Trading remained resilient during December and throughout the holiday period, before softening in early January. The recent weeks have been more encouraging, as government restrictions have been lifted in the UK and some Continental European markets, with sales now trending positively again, driven mainly by strengthening trading in the rail sector as commuter travel returns. We are continuing to actively manage unit openings and closures in response to the fluctuating demand and currently have circa 1,950 units open, circa 72% of the estate, a similar number to that reported in early December with our preliminary results. In line with the fourth quarter of 2021, underlying Ebitda (on a pre-IFRS 16 basis) was positive during the first quarter of the financial year. Net cash flow during the first quarter was broadly neutral as working capital has continued to benefit from payment deferrals. In early February, we fully repaid the £300m drawn from the Bank of England under the covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF), leaving pro-forma available liquidity at £630m at the end of the first quarter (31 December 2021), compared with £635m at the end of September (on a similar pro forma basis, excluding the CCFF). Whilst the Omicron variant continues to have some impact on trading, we are confident in our ability to manage any short-term volatility and, subject to no further government restrictions being introduced, we are well positioned for the important summer trading period. Our medium-term expectations, which are for a return to like-for-like revenues and Ebitda margins at broadly similar levels to 2019 by 2024, remain unchanged.”

Sixth edition of The New Openings Database to be sent to Premium subscribers today, 26,100-word report included: The sixth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock, will be sent to Propel Premium subscribers today, (Friday, 4 February), at midday. It will show the details of 495 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. The database, which is published on a monthly basis, shows the details of which company has opened a site or its plans to open one in the future. It will have details on what type of site it is and its location. There will also be a website link to the businesses so you can find out more about them. The sixth edition of the database features new and expanding leisure and hotel concepts, unique cuisine and regional brands in growth. Premium subscribers will also receive a 26,100-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, was sent to Premium subscribers last Friday (28 January). The database contained 87 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses listed up to 2,293. The 918 sites run by those 87 new additions means the entire database of sites has reached 63,489 sites. Premium subscribers also received a 6,500-word report on the new businesses added. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Premium subscribers also receive the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. The Blue Book, which is also updated every month, provides an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett. In this week’s Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers today at 5pm, he talks to Turtle Bay chair Jane O’Riordan and chief executive Nick Crossley, about how the Piper-backed business has bounced back strongly, how it uses social media to grow its consumer base and its expansion plans. Meanwhile, RedCat Pub Company chairman Rooney Anand discusses why a company’s higher purpose must not come at the expense of ensuring a business survives, and Lavender Bank Partners Geof Collyer gives his take on the sector landscape as it comes out of the crisis and how he sees the next 12 months panning out. Will Wright, head of restructuring for Interpath Advisory, also takes a look at the commercial rent arbitration mechanism that will kick in when the moratorium ends at the end of March.

Services sector bounces back from Omicron wave: The services sector’s recovery from the Omicron wave of covid-19 has been faster than expected, but companies are increasing their prices at a record rate, a closely watched survey has revealed. The Times reports that The IHS Markit/CIPS purchasing manager’s index rose to 54.1 in January from December’s ten-month low of 53.6. This was higher than an earlier preliminary reading of 53.3 and suggests that the mainstay services sector is shrugging off the effects of the more transmissible coronavirus variant. “Demand has started to recover from the impact of Omicron restrictions and most businesses expect only a temporary slowdown from cancelled bookings and staff absences at the turn of the year,” Tim Moore, IHS Markit’s economics director, said. However, the survey, released before the Bank of England raised interest rates yesterday, revealed that inflationary pressures had hit levels not seen for more than a quarter of a century. Costs for services companies rose at the second-fastest rate on record in January, reflecting higher wages, logistics costs and energy bills and more expensive raw materials. It appears that firms have been passing on these expenses to their customers: prices charged rose by the most since the PMI series began in July 1996. The survey underlined the strength of the labour market. Respondents reported “severe difficulties” in finding suitably skilled candidates to fill vacancies and that poaching of staff with higher salaries was “widespread”. Duncan Brock, group director at the CIPS, the professional body for the procurement and supply profession, said that the surge in inflation could exert a “considerable squeeze on household budgets” and may cut short a post-pandemic bounce in consumer spending. “The biggest challenge for policymakers will be reining back price pressures before they spiral out of control and call a halt to further progress,” he said. Although hospitality and leisure firms suffered a slump in sales over the Christmas and new year period, other services companies have the wind in their sails. The PMI indicated that businesses were upbeat about 2022. “Growth expectations for the next 12 months picked up in January and are now the highest since last spring, with staff recruitment difficulties often the only major source of anxiety,” Moore said.

Shaftesbury – recovery on-track despite short period of disruption caused by Omicron restrictions: Central London landlord Shaftesbury has reported that the recovery in the capital is on-track despite short period of disruption caused by Omicron restrictions and says that “visitors and office workers [are] now returning”, adding that the “near and longer-term outlook remains positive”. Brian Bickell, chief executive, said: “I am pleased to report that the strong rebound in confidence and activity since last summer continued into the important pre-Christmas trading period. Whilst trading and footfall have been impacted by seven weeks of Omicron restrictions, strong trading prior to the restrictions and the continuation of government support measures have enabled our occupiers to weather this period of disruption. Robust occupier interest across all our uses and in each of our locations has continued throughout the period, our vacancy levels are trending lower towards pre-pandemic levels and rent collection rates continue to improve. With the lifting of restrictions, visitors and the West End’s important working population are now returning. Together with an improving outlook for international leisure and business travel, there is now the prospect of an extended period of uninterrupted trading growth. The unrivalled attractions and lasting appeal of the West End to both local and domestic audiences, together with our curated, differentiated and affordable locations, will underpin both our continuing post-lockdown revival and our long-term resilience and prospects in the months and years ahead.” The company said it had seen a “robust occupier demand” for all uses and each location continues; while vacancy continues to “decline towards long-term, pre-pandemic average and rent collection continues to improve”. It said that 88% of rent for the quarter to 31 December 2021 had been collected to date, with 77% of January 2022 rents collected to date. It expects collection rates to improve further as footfall and trading bounce back.

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