Raise a glass: are UK pub shares about to bounce back?

Across the UK, after months of lockdown, pub gardens are alive with the sound of clinking glasses, popping corks, and pints a-pouring. As the UK begins drinking away the Covid blues, hospitality could be poised to rebound. Which pub shares should you be raising a glass to?

UK pub shares 

Bleak 2020 gives way to brighter 2021 for pub shares 

Apart from a brief summer hiatus under the “Eat out to help out” scheme, UK pubs and restaurants have been locked up for the pandemic. It’s been a tough ride for hospitality’s major players, which pretty much all market leaders taking massive hits. 

Thanks to tremendous progress on the Covid-19 vaccine front, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger day by day. As part of the UK’s phased return to normality, pubs and restaurants in England are now open for al-fresco dining, as are those in Scotland and Wales. Revellers in Northern Ireland are set to return on April 30th. 

Bookings at hospitality venues have skyrocketed. The Terrace at Alexandra Palace, London’s largest beer garden, is fully booked until the end of May. Fuller’s has reported a high level of bookings across its pubs and inns, as has City Pub Group.  London bookings were up 220% on “Super Saturday” when reopenings occurred, compared with the 105% average across England. 

But let’s temper this somewhat. While most of the big chains have committed to getting operations back to normal as quickly as possible, some 23% of the UK’s 89,500+ licensed venues remain shuttered. Indoor trading is still banned until mid-May. The British Beer and Pub Association points out that only 25% of available beer garden capacity is being used. 

There is still a lot of ground to cover before full hospitality sector recovery. But the important thing to recognise here is recovery is starting.  

Good news for pub shares? Very likely.  

Pub shares: the ones to watch? 

Wetherspoons 

The JD Wetherspoons share price has risen considerably over the past six months but is still lagging behind its rivals in terms of growth. 

So, what impact has lockdown relaxation had on the chain’s performance? We’ve seen that the share price is up 45% over the past 6 months, but the immediate impact hasn’t been as stratospheric as it might have been. Today, the JD Wetherspoon share price has taken a slight drop, but are still performing much higher than this time last year.  

400 out of 871 Wetherspoons premises throughout have been reopened so far. Plans are afoot to invest £145m into refurbishments, new venues and 2,000 new jobs. The project is based around pubs remaining open. Another lockdown would cause havoc.  

Revenues for year ending July 26th, 2021 are expected to be around £867m with a net loss of £90m. However, for 2022, the outlook is brighter. Forecast revenue and profit are expected to total £1.8bn and £61m. 

The next couple of months will be crucial for Wetherspoon’s shares.  

City Pub Group 

City Pub Group shares have rocketed over the past 6 months.  

Things started well in 2020 when shares jumped upon the appointment of Toby Smith to the newly created COO role. Prices were further strengthened in January 2021 when City Pub Group announced it had enough liquidity to survive into 2022 and it had reduced cash burn to £300,000 per month. 

The group is one of the few hospitality companies forecast to turn a profit this year. It’s only £600,000 – but still significant against the £8m loss accrued in 2020. 

Building out real estate is essential to City Pub Group’s growth. Its revenues have bumped sales rose from £15m in 2014 to £60m for 2019, as it acquired and opened a series of new locations. Revenues may take some time to reach these levels once again. The group’s stability, historical growth, and fact it is turning a profit in difficult trading conditions should encourage optimism. 

Marston’s 

While Marston’s shares have risen 29% this year, and over 106% across the previous 6 months, there is still some uncertainty around the stock.  

Investors were hoping to see the price reach 105p this year. That has not been the case. Instead, shares are currently trading at around 94p.  

Covid-19 is of course reason. Upon closing all its premises, Marston’s had been losing around £3-4m a week in revenues. CEO Ralph Findlay is stepping down after 20 years at the helm too. However, with the major share price increase seen recently, it is unlikely the new head will make any drastic changes. More likely, he’ll be looking at navigating out of lockdown in a controlled but profitable manner. 

The Wolverhampton-based brewer also has some leeway from its owners and creditors. 

According to the firm, bondholders are giving strong support, stating: This collaborative approach was helped by open and constructive dialogue in a period of great uncertainty and underlines the importance of good, long-term relationships with all our stakeholders. 

Some 300 pub gardens have been reopened by the chain. Can it keep the momentum rolling? 

Investing & trading pub shares: the risk 

Trading and investing are inherently risky. In the current climate, pub shares come with an extra risk on top.  

While the UK vaccine rollout has been a great success, we’ll only really be able to judge its effectiveness as lockdown laws slacken. Mass gatherings amongst those still unvaccinated could cause an infections spike. If that’s the case, restrictions may be put in place. Pubs may be shuttered again.  

We’re playing the waiting game now. But at least you can wait with a cool pint in a classic UK beer garden on a summer’s day. Cheers.