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Rail strikes fail to derail Christmas sales for UK pub group Marston's

FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Burton-on-Trent

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

(Reuters) -UK pub group Marston's on Tuesday posted year-end holiday sales above pre-pandemic levels, as its predominant regional presence shielded it from the impact of train strikes that weighed on rival city-focused hospitality businesses.

Shares in the FTSE Small Cap firm rose more than 4% in morning trade.

Marston's has over 1,500 pubs and bars across Britain, mainly in local communities with less than 10% of them located in city centres.

The sector's hopes of robust sales in the first year-end holidays in three years devoid of restrictions were jolted by nationwide rail strikes, which curbed customer visits to city-based venues.

Marston's, however, rode on the strength of its local community pubs, logging in 4.5% like-for-like sales growth for the 16 weeks to Jan. 21, compared with the corresponding period in the pre-pandemic 2020 fiscal.

"We have continued to see positive sales momentum through the festive season and into the New Year, with particularly strong demand on the key Christmas and New Year trading days," Chief Executive Officer Andrew Andrea said in a trading statement.

The Wolverhampton-based pub firm said drink sales have continued to outperform food sales and reiterated its earnings outlook, adding that the group's electricity and gas prices were now hedged until September next year and March 2025, respectively.

"Trading should continue to build as the weather warms and lower wholesale energy prices feed through to customers," said Peel Hunt analysts in a note.

Meanwhile, City Pub Group — the owner and operator of 44 pubs across Southern England and Wales — said on Tuesday its fourth-quarter like-for-like sales growth was 7.8% compared with 2019, and that its performance would have been even better had it not been for the rail strikes.

Pub chains Fuller Smith & Turner and Revolution Bars Group this month have warned on profit after the train strikes dented their holiday sales.

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dhanya Ann Thoppil and Uttaresh.V, editing by Ed Osmond)