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Punch and Wetherspoon Report Steady Xmas at Pubs

British pub groups JD Wetherspoon and Punch Taverns reported steady Christmas trading on Wednesday as they gear up for a national smoking ban in July.

Wetherspoon said the 61 pubs in England and Wales in which it has already banned smoking continued to improve sales, while its 39 pubs in Scotland, where smoking was banned last March, have grown sales by 4.9% in the first half.

Analyst Matthew Gerard at Investec Securities called Wetherspoon's performance "highly creditable", but added, "The colder January weather will be having an impact on customers' inclination to venture outside to smoke."

"JDW's performance shows that investment in the retail offer can mitigate the impact of the ban," he added.

Wetherspoon shares rose 2.6% to 680-1/2 pence by 0852 GMT, valuing the group at just over 1 billion pounds ($2 billion).

Punch, Britain's biggest pub owner with over 9,300 venues, said Christmas trading was "in line with recent trends" and its shares rose 1.1%.

Wetherspoon, which has taken a gamble by banning smoking early in part of its estate, said like-for-like sales increased by 5.5% in the 12 weeks to Jan 21, while first-half like-for-likes have increased by 7.5%.

Punch said its estate of leased pubs was growing like-for-likes by around 1%, while its managed estate is growing like-for-likes by around 5%.

Wetherspoons plans to accelerate new pub openings from 9 in the last financial year to 20 this year, and with about 30 openings next year.