Is pub sector on verge of recovery?

The pub and bar sector was hit hard by the downturn in the economy, with consumers choosing to go out less and keeping their spending down when they do.

Furthermore, the industry has had to cope with a more general shift in consumer habits over recent years, which, among other things, has seen spending shift away from the traditional pub staple of beer and towards food, wine and spirits.

Although the public house sector remains a major part of the British economy with over 52,000 pubs and almost one million jobs dependent on either the pub industry or brewing, all this has added up to a turbulent time for many pub and bar owners.

But according to a new report, combined with recent positive news from a number of pub companies, it seems that a return to good times could be on the horizon for the sector, which could also mean an increase in pub jobs and bar work becoming available.

In its latest report on the pub industry published this week, Fleurets noted that the managed pub sector – i.e. those controlled directly by the owner, rather than those leased or tenanted to others – are doing particularly well at the moment.

"The managed house sector continues to drive the wider pub market," said the report. "Trading performance and transactional activity have recovered strongly.

It continued: "Trading statements from both national and regional managed operators show well-managed, well-invested pubs are generating positive like-for-like sales growth."

Another key sign of a recovery is the increased activity in the number of transactions of public houses between various investors.

"Group transactional activity also returned strongly in 2010 demonstrated by the sale of 333 sites by Mitchells & Butlers to the private equity backed Stonegate Pub Company for £373 million," said Fleurets.

Other key deals included the sale of Ha Ha Bar & Grill by the Bay Restaurant Group, again to Mitchells & Butlers, for £19.5 million and the purchase of Geronimo Inns (26 sites) by Young & Co for £60 million.

However, it noted that much of this activity has taken place in the London and the south-east of England, suggesting it could be these regions where those seeking pub jobs are most likely to find new employment opportunities.

The first green shoots of a recovery are also evident in some of the latest financial results released by UK pub companies in recent months.

Earlier this week, for example, Fuller's released its latest half-year results, in which it reported an eight per cent rise in revenue to £137.9 million, compared to £128.2 million for the same period last year.

It too noted that managed pubs are performing particularly well.

"Managed Pubs and Hotels, our largest division, has delivered a robust performance against the backdrop of a unique combination of events in London and the wettest summer in 100 years," said the group's chairman Michael Turner.

These results were echoed by Marston's, which announced its full-year sales figures on Thursday (November 29th).

It revealed that group revenue rose 5.5 per cent to £719.7 million in the 12 months to September 29th this year, while profit before tax increased to £87.8 million, 9.2 per cent more than the £80.4 million reported in 2011.

"These results demonstrate resilience despite the weak economy and very poor weather during the summer," said Ralph Findlay, Marston's PLC's chief executive officer.

"All areas of the business achieved increased revenue and profit in the year, demonstrating the continuing appeal of good pubs and beers."

The increasingly positive outlook for the pub sector comes ahead of what is one of the busiest times of year for the industry in the run up to Christmas and the New Year.

Not only does this mean a likely boost to businesses, those seeking pub jobs will find there could be a number of new part-time and temporary vacancies to be filled over the coming weeks.

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