Ei Group is aiming to convert 40-50 sites a year into its commercial properties portfolio.

The group issued its interim results for the six months to 31 March this morning, which revealed like-for-like sales in its managed pubs up 6% with like-for-like net income in the Publican Partnerships tenanted and leased arm up 1.9%.

Earlier this year, Ei Group agreed the sale of 348 of its commercial property assets for £332.7m, which chief executive Simon Townsend called a “significant milestone” for the group. He said the group expects to sell a further 22 sites from the now 83-strong portfolio for £11.4m over the coming months.

The managed pubs business remains the fastest growing element of Ei Group, currently at 419 sites and expected to grow to between 460 and 470 by the end of the financial year on 30 September.

The group reiterated that it will concentrate on expanding the scale of its existing Managed Investment joint ventures rather than adding new partners.

In its Bermondsey directly managed estate an in-house food development team and service trainers have been recruited. In the operator-agreement-run Craft Union business, a refurbishment of the Wakefield and Barnsley Union Bank building in Wakefield this summer will pave the way for a headquarters for the Craft Union support team and training facilities for the entire Ei Group.

In Publican Partnerships there were 3,555 pubs trading at the end of March, with the south of England providing the strongest net income growth.

Updating on the Pubs Code, the group said that from the code’s introduction to 31 March 2019, there were 1,415 rent review or agreement renewal events which could potentially have triggered a Market Rent Only (“MRO”) request. Ei Group has accepted 344 MRO requests from publicans, of which 195 have been concluded through a tied deal and 34 have resulted in new free-of-tie terms. In addition, 33 requests have been resolved by some other action, including the publican purchasing the pub or selling their lease to us, with the balance of 82 not yet concluded. Of these unresolved requests, 40 have been referred to the Pubs Code Adjudicator for determination.

During the year, Ei Group recorded frowth in underlying EBITDA to £140m from £139m in the same period for 2018. Underlying profit before tax increased to £59m from £57m.

This morning the group announced an additional £30m share buyback to deliver a total programme of £85m in the current financial year.

Townsend said: “We are pleased with the trading performance of our Group for the first half of the year. We continue to deliver sustained like-for-like net income growth within our core Publican Partnerships business and are generating strong returns as we expand our Managed Operations and Managed Investments businesses.

“Despite an environment of unprecedented political uncertainty and inflationary pressure from increases in the national minimum and living wage, consumers continue to support their local pub. This consumer resilience, combined with excellent operational execution and effective capital investment, provides us with the confidence that we can maintain our growth momentum for the year as a whole, despite some challenging comparative trading periods ahead of us in June and July.

“The completion of the disposal of 348 commercial properties in March represented a significant milestone for the Group. We have demonstrated our ability to grow value through the transfer of assets to their optimum use and then to unlock that value through monetisation providing evidence of our strategy in action. We are using the significant cash proceeds received from the transaction to accelerate our debt reduction plans and to deliver value to our shareholders. We are pleased to announce today a further £30 million share buyback programme, in addition to the £55 million programmes previously announced in this financial year.”