Pub chain blames train strikes for £4m sales hit

A leading pubs and hotels operator has warned investors it is expecting annual earnings to come in below market expectations, claiming that train strikes have taken the gloss off its performance.

Fuller, Smith & Turner (FS&T) estimated it had lost £4m in sales due to the strike action since last autumn - denting its momentum despite the continued challenge from the cost of living crisis.

"Sales for the four-week Christmas and New Year period increased by 38% against a trading period last year that was impacted by COVID restrictions and work from home guidance", the company said.

"Due to the impact of the train strikes, our sales compared to the same four weeks in 2019 have declined by 5%.

"Since the start of October, we estimate that industrial action has reduced our sales by some £4m and the consequent impact on profitability means that we now expect to report earnings below market expectations for the full year."

The update from Fuller's chimes with separate evidence that train strikes have damaged high street sales for both retail and hospitality businesses.

Traffic numbers have consistently shown a slump in visits to town and city centre destinations on days when strikes have taken place.

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Commuters have also been put off by the prospect of disruption on non-strike days immediately following a walkout.

FS&T suggested there was a clear divide.

"The underlying positive sales momentum of the business has continued with like-for-like sales for the 43 weeks to 21 January 2023 up 20% on last year, despite the challenging consumer backdrop.

"In comparison to pre-pandemic levels, our like-for-like sales for the 43 weeks are at 97% against the same period in FY (full year) 2020."

Chief executive Simon Emeny added: "We are encouraged by our underlying sales performance.

"While it is frustrating that the train strikes have set back our reported sales and earnings, it is reassuring that we are achieving our anticipated sales trajectory in periods unaffected by strikes.

"While ongoing strike action will dampen sales, demand from customers remains good and we are optimistic that 2023 will deliver further sales growth."

Shares opened more than 6% down.