Buyers circle Ei’s £350m pubs portfolio

A portfolio of about 400 pubs is being circled by potential buyers months after the boss of Ei Group confirmed plans to sell off commercial properties in the group’s portfolio worth £350 million.

Simon Townsend, who first confirmed Ei’s intention to auction off more than 400 boozers in September, said the sale would “allow us to concentrate on our core estate.

“I have been reassured by the level of interest we have received.”

Townsend said it could sell its entire estate, which includes 412 outlets owned on a freehold basis.

Ei Group, one of the UK’s largest pub operators, reported a stable profit of £122 million for the year ended 30 September 2018, and issued its third share buyback in three years in its preliminary financial results yesterday, while also hinting at a further return to shareholders.

Sales rose 7% to £695 million, helped by unusually high temperatures over the summer and a boost in trading during the FIFA World Cup.

“We continue to take appropriate steps to ensure that the Group’s capital structure enables and supports our objective to deliver attractive and sustainable returns for shareholders, as demonstrated by today’s announcement to initiate a further share buyback programme of up to £20 million,” Townsend said.

The group said its ability to boost revenue from the sites it already owns is “limited, to the extent that the potential disposal of some, or all, of the portfolio is likely to realise best value for shareholders.”

Ben Wilkinson, national director of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “It’ll be important to consider the details of what is currently only a rumoured sale of some of Ei Group’s pubs. But if a number of pubs are to be put on the market, it’s essential that other operators are given the opportunity to acquire these as going concerns.

“Too many times in the past we’ve seen owners dispose of pubs directly to developers, robbing communities of their locals and licensees of their livelihoods. If Ei chooses to dispose of some its estate, we call on it to do the morally decent thing and sell these sites as licensed premises.”

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