Regent shares go Walkabout on fears of England's Euro 2008 exit

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The Independent Online

Shares in Regent Inns took a hit yesterday after the group admitted that England's likely failure to reach next year's European Football Championships will affect its trading performance.

The company, which runs the Australia-themed bars Walkabout, Old Orleans restaurant chain and Jongleurs comedy clubs, remains cautious about the prospects for its entertainment venues, particularly Walkabout, which screens big sporting events.

Since the start of October, trading has been influenced by England getting through to the final of the rugby World Cup, which it lost to South Africa on 20 October. Customers watching matches in Walkabout pubs led to an upturn in trade although sales in its Jongleurs comedy clubs and Old Orleans, an American-style chain it bought from Punch Taverns last August, declined, the company said.

Like-for-like sales fell 1 per cent across the group in the 14 weeks through to 6 October, although Jongleurs performed better than the Walkabout estate. This was against a strong summer in 2006 on the back of the football World Cup and hot weather.

Food sales continue to grow with a rise of 8.5 per cent on last year and, following the implementation of the ban on smoking in public areas, bars with outside areas performed more strongly, up 2.1 per cent on last year.

"The board remains cautious in its outlook for entertainment bars, given the increasing likelihood of a slowdown in consumer spending, the full impact of the smoking ban and the uncertainty over England's participation in Euro 2008," the company said in a statement. "However, the board is confident that investment in Old Orleans, along with operational improvements to the business, will deliver growth."

Shares in the group dipped 2 per cent earlier in the day, but recovered to close 1 p down at 67.5p.

Last month, the chief executive Bob Ivell signalled he would be willing for Regent Inns to merge with another company as part of the next stage of consolidation in the industry. Private-equity backed rivals such as Novus Leisure, Laurel Pub Company and Inventive Leisure could be possible partners, he said.

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