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(Reuters) - British pub operator Marston's said Christmas bookings were "encouraging" and trading was now exceeding pre-pandemic levels, as it hopes to turn the corner after reporting a much bigger annual loss than last year on Tuesday.
"We believe the worst of the pandemic is now behind us, albeit we will have to navigate through the coming winter months if any further government restrictions are put in place," Marston's, which has about 1,500 pubs in the UK, said.
The UK has in the past week seen cases of the new Omicrom variant of the coronavirus, prompting the government to reimpose some restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
Restrictions on hospitality earlier in the financial year due to the pandemic pushed Marston's to an underlying pre-tax loss of 100 million pounds ($133.12 million) for the 12 months ended Oct. 2, widening from a loss of 22 million pounds a year earlier.
But on a reported basis, it made a profit of 119.3 million pounds, helped by a 291 million pound gain on the sale of its beer business to Carlsberg UK.
That compared to a loss of 397.1 million pounds last year.
Shares in Marston's, which have fallen around 6% this year, were flat by 0814 GMT.
Marston's, brewer of Pedigree, Hobgoblin and Lancaster Bomber beer, said its business has been improving since COVID-related curbs were relaxed in April.
SMALL POCKETS OF DISRUPTIONS
Like the hospitality industry across the world, pub operators were among the worst hit by the pandemic in Britain, with months of lockdowns or other restrictions on dining forcing them to cut jobs or raise funds to get through the crisis.
Marston's said it has decided not to propose a dividend for fiscal 2021, due in part to the potential for continuing uncertainty.
Addressing a widespread labour crunch and supply chain issues, Marston's said its exposure to the worker shortage was limited due to its predominantly suburban pub estate, while adding it was working with suppliers after seeing "some small pockets of disruption" relating to supply.
Last week rival Mitchells & Butlers said its sales in recent weeks have been higher than before the pandemic but sounded an alarm about challenges ahead due to rising costs for staff and utilities.
($1 = 0.7496 pounds)
(Reporting by Chris Peters and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Susan Fenton)