Cheers and fears at Punch Taverns

Punch Taverns toasted a World Cup sales boost yesterday but voiced fears about the impact of Government belt-tightening on nervous punters.

Britain's biggest pubs operator posted its first like-for-like sales growth since early 2009 across its managed pubs, helping sales declines for the 44 weeks to 26 June ease to 2.7 per cent against 3.4 per cent after 28 weeks.

But England crashed out of the World Cup a day after the end of the trading period, cutting short the sales cheer for landlords. Punch, which has more than 7,100 pubs, said it also remained cautious following the Budget.

However, plans to invest in 800 pubs across its tenanted estate by the year end are on track, and support to struggling landlords remains stable at £2m a month, although a squeeze on drinks margins has kept profits under pressure. Punch's net debt now stands at £3.2bn, helped by disposals set to generate £300m over the full year. The firm has reduced its debt by £664m since the start of the financial year.