Punch Taverns toasts its progress as it sells off more outlets than expected

Punch Taverns, the hugely indebted pubs group, has said it had seen improving trends across its estate in the past three months and managed to sell off more of its unwanted outlets than expected.

Punch is looking to finalise a massive debt-for-equity swap to deal with its £2.4bn of borrowings by the end of June. It said it was making "encouraging progress" in its talks with bondholders.

In the three months to 2 March the decline in sales in Punch's core estate slowed from 5.2 per cent to 3.5 per cent. In the past six months it sold 164 pubs for a total of £55m, which puts it on target for £105m raised from sales by the year-end.

Stephen Billingham, the executive chairman, said: "We have strong plans in place to return the core estate to growth in the medium term."

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