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Shareholders set to look to future as pub chain Wetherspoon reports results

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August Graham
·3-min read
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Wetherspoon results will not make nice reading for its investors next week, when the impact on the pub chain over the last six months will be laid bare.

The half-year update, for the period ending February, will largely encompass times when the country was under tiers and 10pm curfews at best and national lockdowns at worst.

It means investors will likely be looking for information on the future, rather than the company’s tough past, as the hard-hit hospitality sector looks to reopen.

It could include hints around the future of after-work drinks as many office workers are expected to continue, at least to an extent, to work from home even after the pandemic.

Shareholders could also be looking for more information on what Wetherspoon has done with the close to £100 million it raised from them in January.

“As well as providing a fresh financial buffer the company planned to use some of this cash to hoover up prime locations vacated by struggling rivals,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter.

“It was a sign of optimism that pent up demand would deliver a swift recovery, but the phased re-opening of the hospitality industry will have come as another set-back for the company.”

A month from now Wetherspoon will see the first signs of reopening, as it welcomes drinkers and diners to the rooftop gardens and patios of 394 pubs across the country.

Although not a full reopening it will hopefully alleviate some of the £14 million that lockdown has been costing the business per month.

However, with indoor drinking and eating not set to restart until May 17 at the earliest, Wetherspoon and other hospitality ventures are still far from out of the woods on Covid.

And if social distancing remains in place, as it did during the autumn, the company’s business is unlikely to reach back to pre-pandemic levels straight out of the gate.

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At the beginning of the period, in October, when his pubs had been open, boss Tim Martin revealed that like-for-like sales had nevertheless dropped by 15% across 11 weeks compared to the same period a year earlier.

“The pandemic has severely upended Wetherspoon’s business model, which has been focused on pulling in high numbers of punters by keeping prices low,” Ms Streeter said.

“Inevitably lockdowns have hurt hard but even when restrictions have eased, social distancing and the bar ordering ban has severely limited numbers inside its pubs.”

The reopening will however bring some of Wetherspoon thousands of employees back to serving customers, after months of the pubs being closed.

Last month Mr Martin told Sky News that he hopes to bring back all of the pub chain’s 37,000 workers who are currently on furlough.

But the extension of furlough until the end of September will also give the business some breathing room if it is unable to immediately bring back all workers due to low demand or social distancing.

The business will also benefit from an extension to the cut in VAT from 20% to 5% for the hospitality and tourism.

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