MARKET REPORT: Pub chain Wetherspoons rocked by staff Covid infections


MARKET REPORT: Wetherspoons slumps 5% as it is rocked by staff Covid infections and the ‘rule of six’ restrictions

It was a choppy start to the week for Wetherspoons investors as traders digested an update about Covid infections and the ‘rule of six’ restrictions.

Wetherspoons revealed 66 employees had tested positive for coronavirus at 50 of its pubs.

Of these, 28 have returned to work after a period of isolation.

Wetherspoons revealed 66 employees had tested positive for coronavirus at 50 of its pubs. Of these, 28 have returned to work after a period of isolation

Wetherspoons revealed 66 employees had tested positive for coronavirus at 50 of its pubs. Of these, 28 have returned to work after a period of isolation

This is a fraction of its overall workforce of more than 41,500 and its 861 watering holes.

But it was the type of number that would at the very least raise eyebrows at a time when infections are surging and people are starting to question whether daily life is as ‘back to normal’ as it has seemed.

Chairman Tim Martin has insisted that the situation with regards to pubs has been ‘widely misunderstood’ and that, provided venues keep to strict hygiene measures, they are safe to remain open – citing Sweden as a prime example.

Wetherspoons has had more than 32m visits to its pubs since their doors started reopening in early July – though contrary to fears that there would be a mad bingeing scramble this past weekend, Martin said it was actually quieter than expected.

Stock Watch – Symphony Environmental Technologies 

A university study found an active ingredient made by Symphony Environmental Technologies could make plastics resistant to Covid-19.

Symphony’s technology could be added to plastic products when they are being made, making them capable of killing Covid-19 cells.

It could also be added to films or tapes that could be put in train carriages and offices, wrapped around door handles, to prevent the spread of the virus. Symphony shares soared 24.4 per cent, or 5.5p, to 28p.

Wetherspoons has spent £15million kitting out its sites with safety measures, has an established way of putting in online orders – and has clearly seen a lot of people pass through its doors.

But shares fell yesterday, by as much as 5 per cent, as Wetherspoons’ own figures on the coronavirus dovetailed with the start of new Covid-19 restrictions that cap the number of people who can socialise together in a group at six.

The FTSE 250-listed group’s stock eventually pared back losses, closing down 1.4 per cent, or 12.5p, at 914p.

Fellow watering-hole owner Brighton Pier Group had a very different start to the week.

The small-cap company – which runs Brighton Palace Pier and a number of high-end bars – rose 9.8 per cent, or 3p, to 33.5p after it said trading had been much better than expected over the last 10 weeks. At its sites that have reopened, turnover is running at about 77 per cent of last year.

And it is going to trial a format without live music at some of its usually DJ-led late-night venues – but said it still needs the Government to make it clear when it can properly restart the party.

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It was a mixed day on the wider market, with the FTSE 100 falling by 0.1 per cent, or 5.84 points, to 6026.25, as tensions ratcheted up over Brexit negotiations. The FTSE 250, in contrast, rose 0.7 per cent, or 121.39 points, to 17677.26.

Footsie-listed Aviva was little moved by new chief executive Amanda Blanc putting her money where her mouth is and ploughing £1million into buying shares in the insurance provider.

Blanc, who has been at Aviva’s helm since July, hoovered up 324,887 shares at around 300p each. She is attempting to restructure the group and revive its stock – a plan that has so far included offloading its Singapore business for £1.5billion.

Despite the big gesture, shares fell 0.4 per cent, or 1.2p, to 302p.

Landlord CLS climbed 0.7 per cent, or 1.5p, to 208.5p after it spent almost £60million buying three office sites in Greater London and the South East. 

But elsewhere in the property sector, housebuilder MJ Gleeson said profits had slumped by 86 per cent to just £5.6million as turnover fell 41 per cent to £147million.

The swift closure of sites in the spring resulted in a sharp drop in sales in the year to June 30. Shares fell 2.3 per cent, or 14p, to 600p.

And litigation funder Burford Capital rose 2.1 per cent, or 11.6p, to 576p after it got the green light to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange, in addition to its London listing.

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