Pub group JD Wetherspoon reports record sales, profit and earnings per share before exceptional items for the year to 24 July. Like-for-like sales increased by 3.4% (2015: 3.3%), with total sales of £1,595.2m, an increase of 5.4% (2015: 7.4%). Like-for-like bar sales increased by 3.3% (2015: 1.2%), food sales by 3.5% (2015: 7.3%) and slot/fruit machine sales decreased by 2.2% (2015: decreased by 2.8%). Like-for-like room sales at our hotels increased by 9.7% (2015: 24.2%) - although hotel sales form less than 1% of total sales. Operating profit before exceptional items decreased by 2.5% to £109.7m (2015: £112.5m). The operating margin, before exceptional items, decreased to 6.9% (2015: 7.4%), as a result mainly of increases in staff costs, utilities and depreciation. Profit before tax and exceptional items increased by 3.6% to £80.6m (2015: £77.8m), with a contribution from property profits of £5.3m (2015: £0.7m loss). Earnings per share (including shares held in trust by the employee share scheme), before exceptional items, were 48.3p (2015: 47.0p). Net interest was covered 3.3 times by operating profit before exceptional items (2015: 3.3 times). Total capital investment was £124.8m in the period (2015: £173.3m), with £55.2m invested in new pubs and extensions to existing pubs (2015: £106.3m). In addition, there was expenditure of £33.5m on existing pubs and IT infrastructure (2015: £44.8m) and £36.1m on the acquisition of freeholds where Wetherspoon was already a tenant (2015: £21.6m). Exceptional items totalled £5.7m (2015: £12.6m). The company incurred charges as a result of a number of pub disposals and closures. There was an £8.5m loss on disposal and an impairment charge of £3.9m for closed sites. A further impairment charge of £2.2m was incurred in respect of underperforming pubs, redundant computer software and onerous leases. In addition there were £8.9m of exceptional tax credits, as a result of a reduction in the UK average corporation tax rate, which has the effect of creating an exceptional tax credit for future years. The total cash effect of these exceptional items resulted in cash inflow of £14.0m, which reflected the proceeds from the pub disposals. Free cash flow, after capital investment of £33.5m on existing pubs (2015: £44.8m), £6.9m in respect of share purchases for employees (2015: £6.8m) and payments of tax and interest, decreased by £19.3m to £90.5m (2015: £109.8m). The decrease resulted from a working capital outflow of £9.6m in the year compared with an inflow of £27.3m in 2015. Free cash flow per share was 76.7p (2015: 89.8p). Chairman Tim Martin said: "I am pleased to report a year of progress for the company, with record sales, profit and earnings per share before exceptional items. "The government is actively considering ideas for generating jobs and economic activity, especially in areas outside the affluent south of the country - VAT equality, as the trade organisations BBPA and ALMR have demonstrated, is a very efficient and sensible method of helping to achieve these objectives. "Tax equality also accords with the underlying principle of fairness in applying taxes to different businesses. "In the run up to, and the aftermath of, the recent referendum, the overwhelming majority of FTSE 100 companies, the employers' organisation CBI, the IMF, the OECD, the Treasury, the leaders of all the main political parties and almost all representatives of British universities forecast trouble, often in lurid terms, for the economy, in the event of the Leave vote. "For example, claims were made by David Cameron and George Osborne that family income would eventually be reduced by £4,000 per annum, that mortgage interest rates would increase and that house prices would fall - claims which were supported, in terms, by Mark Carney of the Bank of England. "City voices such as PwC and Goldman Sachs, and the great preponderance of banks and other institutions, also leant weight to this negative view. For example, Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (The Times 28 June) stated that there was 'near-unanimity' among economists in favour of Remain. "Rather amazingly, he added: 'I take as given that we economists were collectively right about the (bad) economic consequences of leaving the EU.' Johnson then cites this consensus as evidence for the economic truth of the Remain case. "This is a strange argument to advance since consensus forecasts from economists, who generally failed to forecast the last recession or the catastrophic flaws of the euro, are almost always delusional. "As Warren Buffett has said, forecasts tell you a lot about the forecaster, but not about the future. Economic forecasts from over-confident pundits such as Mr Johnson are an important component of Benjamin Graham's 'Mr Market', the mythical punter who gets everything wrong. "Just as the combined intellectual weight of the 'good and great' could not see through the flaws in the euro, they have, with honourable exceptions, been unable to see that the principal flaw of the EU - an absence of democracy - will almost certainly lead to further economic and political chaos, and to more dire consequences for those who are subject to EU decisions. "The overwhelming economic evidence is that successful countries are democracies - Mr Johnson and like-minded economists really do need to stick that point in their pipes and smoke it. For all their faults, democracies produce the greatest level of prosperity and freedom. As in the case of the euro, the general public has a much better perception about this overriding factor than the consensus of intellectual opinion. I have written an article on this general subject for Wetherspoon News. "Now that the gloomy economic forecasts for the immediate aftermath of the referendum have been proven to be false, 'Scare Story 2' is that failure to agree on trade deal with the EU will have devastating consequences. This was articulated by fund manager Nicola Horlick this week, who told Radio 4 listeners that leaving the Single Market would relegate the UK from the 5th-biggest economy in the world to the 8th or 9th. "In contrast, Wetherspoon's experience indicates that reaching formal trade deals with reluctant counterparties is impossible - and it is unwise to try. "For example, I personally agreed on terms with one of our biggest suppliers, a major PLC, for a new seven-year contract about 12 years ago. Although the deal was put in the hands of lawyers, it was never signed or 'ratified' during this time, although we traded successfully for the anticipated duration. "We subsequently agreed on a deal for a further seven years - and that has not been signed to this day. Indeed, we have traded without interruption with this company for 37 years. In contrast, deals with some suppliers have been rapidly embodied in formal contracts. "Over the years, we have agreed on thousands of 'trade deals' with big and small suppliers: some are formal contracts, some are 'hand-shakes', some are short term, but many last for decades. The commercial reality is that you can lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink. "This is especially true of the EU - an organisation of Byzantine complexity, run by five unelected presidents, with input from numerous other parts of the many-headed Hydra. It has struggled to reach trade deals with most of the world's major economies, for example, the USA, China and India. "The UK is an enormous trading partner of the USA, generating a substantial surplus for us, in spite of the absence of a 'deal' and it would be unwise to clamour after a specific formal agreement to replace existing arrangements in these circumstances - the back of the queue is a good place to be. "Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson (Financial Times, 3/4 September) and many others advocate leaving the EU and trading afterwards with it on the basis of World Trade Organisation rules. If the EU is keen for a trade deal, we should cooperate, but unelected apparatchiks like President Juncker can't be controlled - which is one of the main reasons we voted to leave. "Common sense … suggests that the worst approach for the UK is to insist on the necessity of a 'deal' - we don't need one and the fact that EU countries sell us twice as much as we sell them creates a hugely powerful negotiating position. "If WTO tariffs apply, the UK will receive twice as much as it pays. Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox will achieve far more for the UK by copying Francis Drake and playing bowls in Plymouth, rather than hankering after an EU agreement, although time spent in improving arrangements with Singapore, New Zealand and India, for example, may be well spent. "Since the year end, Wetherspoon's sales have continued to be encouraging and increased by 4.1%. Despite this positive start, it remains to be seen whether this will continue over the remainder of the year, given the strong like-for-like sales in the last financial year and what remains a very low-inflation environment. "We will provide updates as we progress through the year, but we currently anticipate a slightly improved trading outcome for the current financial year, compared with our expectations at the pre-close stage."
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