British pub group Wetherspoon aims to 'break even' this year

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(Reuters) -British pub group J D Wetherspoon expects to "break even" in the current financial year if there are no further COVID-19 restrictions, while warning on Wednesday of rising cost pressures from labour and energy.

The London-listed chain, which runs more than 800 pubs in the United Kingdom and Ireland, said it had returned to profitability and to a positive cash flow since March 13.

Like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks to April 24 were 4% below the same period in 2019 before the pandemic took hold, the company said.

Shares of the company fell about 4% in early trading.

Britain's hospitality sector is beginning to recover after being hammered during the lockdowns, but it faces challenges from record-high inflation and Russia's invasion of Ukraine that has hurt confidence and raised commodity prices.

"Since COVID-19 restrictions ended, sales have improved," said Chairman Tim Martin, who has been an outspoken critic of the British government's handling of the health crisis.

"As many hospitality companies have indicated, there is considerable pressure on costs, especially in respect of labour, food, and energy. Repairs are also running at a higher rate than before the pandemic," Martin added.

Wetherspoon, which last reported an annual profit for the year ended July 2019, also said it was "cautiously optimistic" about the possibility of a return to "relative normality" next year.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)