'Cautious' Wetherspoon warns of lower sales and higher costs

Pubs group Wetherspoon has warned that it will be stung by significantly higher costs in the second half of the year and expects sales to slow

PUB operator JD Wetherspoon has warned that it will be stung by significantly higher costs in the second half of the year, adding that it expects sales to slow.

The group said a combination of higher wages, an additional £7 million bill for business rates, a £2 million hit from the Apprenticeship Levy and "cost increases" mean that it remains cautious.

Chairman Tim Martin said: "In view of these additional costs and our expectation that like-for-like sales will be lower in the next six months, the company remains cautious about the second half of the year."

In the first half, Wetherspoon said like-for-like sales rose 3.4 per cent and total sales increased by 1.6 per cent.

The firm said it expects a "slightly improved" trading outcome for the current financial year compared with 2016 and will increase the level of investment in existing pubs from £34 million to around £60 million.

Brexit-backing Mr Martin, who has previously accused European leaders of taking a "bullying" approach to the UK, once again used the company's trading statement to deliver a diatribe on the state of the nation following the EU referendum.

He said that Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane calling economists' forecasts a "Michael Fish moment" demonstrated a "deep misunderstanding" of the situation.

"Michael Fish's predictions were a misinterpretation of data on one evening, under great time pressure. In contrast, the majority of economists, economic institutions, politicians and intellectuals has consistently misunderstood the implications of the euro, its predecessor the exchange rate mechanism and the implications of leaving the EU, over a period of about 30 years," said Mr Martin.

"The underlying reason for their catastrophically poor judgment is a semi-religious belief in a new type of political and economic system, represented by the EU, which lacks both proper democratic institutions and the basic ingredient for a successful currency - a government."

He added that the mutual imposition of World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs would create a "windfall" for the UK.

The group had built up a portfolio of nine Wetherspoon outlets in Northern Ireland, but last November confirmed that it was selling off five of its pubs to the Granny Annie's Group, run by Limavady brothers Willis and Ryan McLaughlin, for £4 million.

The chain said it would continue to run its pubs in Belfast, Newtownards, Carrickfergus and Lisburn, and would also press ahead with a £4.5 million investment to open new Belfast outlets at the vacant JJB Sports store in Royal Avenue and a former Methodist church on University Road, which between them will create 100 jobs.

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