Snowbound drinkers cost Wetherspoon dear as cold snap freezes out punters

ICY weather has taken its toll on yet another leading leisure group, with JD Wetherspoon yesterday unveiling a fall in sales as snowbound drinkers stayed at home.

Wetherspoon, whose 700-plus pubs include some 40-odd in Scotland, said sales at pubs open for more than a year fell 0.3 per cent in the 12 weeks to 17 January.

The last two weeks were the worst-hit by the bad weather, with comparable sales for the ten weeks to 3 January up 1.2 per cent.

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John Hutson, chief executive, forecast same-floorspace sales growth of 1 per cent in the company's second trading half. "A couple of bad weeks in January we'll have to take on the chin but we're trading well," he said. "We think about 1 per cent growth in the second half is, based on current trading, where we're at."

The group's pubs in Scotland include the Foot of the Walk in Edinburgh and the Robert Nairn in Kirkcaldy and Dundee's Counting House.

Hutson confirmed that Wetherspoon has begun talks with its banks over the restructuring of a 435 million credit line due to expire next December – and played down the possibility of a rights issue.

"We'll keep our options open but our preferred option would be to replace debt with debt. A rights issue would be our least preferred option," Hutson added.

• Activist investor Joe Lewis has called on pubs group Mitchells & Butlers to conduct a review of its business and present a plan to shareholders within 60 days of its AGM on 28 January. In a letter to shareholders, Lewis's investment vehicle Piedmont, which holds 23 per cent of M&B, also urged shareholders to back the appointment of four candidates it has put forward to join M&B's board.

Lewis is in dispute with the group's existing board.