British pub group Fuller warns on profit as train strikes hurt sales

FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen outside of a Fuller's pub in Chiswick, London, Britain

By Radhika Anilkumar

(Reuters) - Pubs operator Fuller Smith & Turner warned that it expects its full year earnings to be below market expectations after train strikes in Britain dented its holiday sales, sending its shares down almost 7%.

The pub and restaurant industry, which has been limping back to recovery from pandemic lows, had hoped for a boost from a first Christmas in three years devoid of restrictions but nationwide rail strikes over pay amid a cost-of-living squeeze curbed customer visits.

Shares of the FTSE SmallCap firm, which have slumped about 35% over the last 12 months, were down 7.6% in morning trade.

"While ongoing strike action will dampen sales, ... we are optimistic that 2023 will deliver further sales growth through a busy calendar of events, and as office workers and tourists continue to return to the capital," Chief Executive Officer Simon Emeny said.

Sales during the four holiday weeks dropped 5% from pre-pandemic levels, hurt by the train strikes, the company, which has a number of pubs across London, said.

It added that the industrial action likely reduced sales by about 4 million pounds ($4.96 million) since October.

"The disruptive impact of strikes has been well covered, although the profit before tax for Fuller's may be a little higher than investors were thinking," Stifel analysts said in a note.

On a year-on-year basis, Fuller saw a 38% jump in sales for the holiday weeks, benefiting from the soccer World Cup and Christmas trade.

Last week, UK's Revolution Bars Group also warned on annual profit after the city-centre pub chain's Christmas sales were hit by the train strikes.

($1 = 0.8060 pounds)

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)