Outside beer sales lift Marston 20%

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STRONG sales of Pedigree real ale led to a 20 per cent rise in profits at the regional brewer, Marston, Thompson & Evershed.

Marston was helped by reciprocal supply agreements with national and regional pub companies including Allied-Lyons, Scottish & Newcastle and the Midlands-based Wolverhampton & Dudley.

Driven by a 14 per cent increase in sales outside the company's own pubs, total beer volumes increased by 4 per cent in the half-year to 25 September. Sales to Marstons' own pubs declined by 3 per cent.

Turnover rose 10 per cent to pounds 70m. Profit before tax was pounds 11.5m (pounds 9.6m).

Michael Hurdle, chairman, said the figures were flattered by one-off costs that depressed last year's results. Underlying profits showed more modest growth. 'I find it difficult to believe that we will see the same sort of percentage increase in profit in the second half of the year as the first,' he said.

Earnings per share rose to 8.7p from 7.3p. Analysts estimate Marston will make taxable profits of pounds 23m for the year to next March, equivalent to earnings per share of 19p. The shares rose 1p yesterday to 272p, a prospective p/e ratio of 14.5.

Whitbread, the brewer, and the Whitbread Investment Company - which are in the throes of merger - together own 21 per cent of Marston. If the merger is completed the combined Whitbread group will have to reduce its stake in Marston to 15 per cent or make a full bid for the company to comply with the Beer Order regulations.