Punch Taverns could call last orders on as many as 6,000 pubs as it battles to bring its £3.1bn debt mountain under control.
New chief executive Ian Dyson could hand the tenanted estate – hostelries that it owns but which are run by independent landlords – to his bond-holders, all but eliminating the debt at a stroke. That would enable him to concentrate on the 800 pubs punch owns directly.
The plan is one option being considered by Mr Dyson to deal with the debt pile, which has been reducing through pub sales but still worries investors.
The problems at Punch have been thrown into sharp relief by good results from rivals such as Fuller's and Mitchells & Butlers. Both show that a success can be made of pubs without crippling debt.