United Breweries upturn: Losses reduced and trading profits tripled under new management

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UNITED BREWERIES - the renamed Wiltshire Brewery Company whose best-known brand is Kingfisher lager - yesterday reported its first set of figures since control of the ailing pub and brewing group passed to the Indian company United Breweries last year.

The interim figures show losses have been sharply cut back, largely as a result of charging higher rents to tenants and the renegotiation of beer supply agreements.

Pre-tax losses for the six months to 31 May accordingly fell to pounds 189,000 against pounds 283,000 last time, while trading profits more than tripled to pounds 196,000 from pounds 60,000.

Vijay Mallya, the new chairman who also heads the Indian company, which has a one-third share of the alcoholic drinks market on the sub-continent, said tenants could pay higher rents because they benefited from better prices on the supply of beers. They also gained from the pounds 300,000 United has spent upgrading the outlets, he added.

News of the improvement came as it emerged that Mr Mallya has been named in a pounds 5m court action.

The claim is being made by sibling members of the Indian Menon family following the death of their father in June 1992. They allege that Mr Menon senior lent money to Mr Mallya and a company he controlled called United Breweries International.

Mr Mallya said yesterday: 'There is absolutely no question of any loans being made.' He said the money bought equity investments in joint business ventures.

A spokesman for Mr Mallya stressed there was no connection between United Breweries International and United Breweries, the USM- quoted company that reported financial results yesterday.

In December Mr Mallya took the chairmanship of Wiltshire Brewery and organised a reconstruction of the company. A rights issue raised pounds 6.9m and new management also bought an estate of 37 repossessed pubs from Allied Irish Banks for pounds 7.2m.

Debt remains at about pounds 8m but because the rights issue broadened the capital base gearing has fallen from 350 per cent to 100 per cent.

As well as expanding its pub estate to 77 outlets United has taken over the distribution of Kingfisher in the UK. It is also relaunching Wiltshire's Stonehenge bitter.

Loss per share was 0.5p, down from 5p. There is no half-time dividend, but Mr Mallya said the company had returned to profits in the second half.

The shares rose 1p to 10.5p.

(Photograph omitted)