Pub firm Enterprise Inns upbeat as profit growth returns

LONDON Tue May 13, 2014 3:49am EDT

LONDON May 13 (Reuters) - British pub group Enterprise Inns said improving trade boosted by strong demand in the south of England and a support programme for its publicans left it confident of achieving full-year underlying net income growth.

The group, landlord to some 5,500 pubs, has been investing in revamps to its estate, as well as better training for publicans, discounted TV packages and improved food ranges to help boost sales after years spent focused on selling off pubs to help lower huge debts.

The firm on Tuesday reported like-for-like net income growth of 1.1 percent for the six months to March 31, making it three straight quarters of growth for the first time since 2008.

Adjusted pretax profit was flat at 55 million pounds ($93 million), in line with expectations.

Shares in Enterprise Inns rose 3.4 percent to 149.9 pence in early trading.

Since the credit crisis, the group has been forced to sell off a raft of pubs to help reduce net debt of 3.8 billion pounds. It said on Tuesday this now stood at 2.5 billion pounds, having sold off 129 pubs in the half, raising 42 million pounds.

The group expects total disposal proceeds of 70 million pounds for the full-year.

"I am confident that through our activities to support publicans to grow their businesses we will achieve our target of like-for-like net income growth for the full financial year," said Simon Townsend, who replaced the firm's founder and CEO Ted Tuppen in February after 23 years in the role.

($1 = 0.5927 British Pounds) (Reporting by Neil Maidment; Editing by Mark Potter)