Marston’s, the brewer and pub group, has this morning unveiled like-for-like sales at its managed house arm down 0.6% for the first 43 weeks of its current financial year. The group said this reflected strong comparisons against last year – when like-for-likes were up 4.3% - and a weak April trading period. The company said that like-for-like sales growth was in positive territory in the last 13 weeks to 26 July, up 0.5%. Unveiling an interim management statement, it said that operating margins had been hit by stronger food sales and falling drinks revenues and machine income. In Marston’s leased and tenanted arm, like-for-like profit was down 1.2%, with growth in rent offset by weak volumes and machine income down – in line with market trends. The group said it was providing financial support to help tenants that would cost about £2m in the current year. At Marston’s Beer Company, although volumes were down the company said it had increased its share overall in a declining market, and achieved good growth in premium ale. The company said that despite the rising cost of raw materials, food supplies and energy prices, it was controlling its costs well. The group said that while it would invest about £115m in the current year, capital expenditure next year would be just £65m, with fewer pub openings in new housing developments as builders reduced construction projects. Marston’s said it would not need to undertake a refinancing until 2010, when its current banking facility was due to be renewed. It currently had £160m of headroom available under this facility. Group sales were 2% up on last year. Ralph Findlay said: “Although the market is difficult, and we do not expect any improvement in the economy in the sort term, we are still seeing growth in eating out in Marston’s pubs despite the squeeze on discretionary expenditure and weaker confidence. We are also experiencing volume growth in Marston’s premium ales. “Cost inflation remains a significant challenge, but we are controlling our costs well and are taking appropriate actions to offset some of the increase in the costs of brewing raw materials, food supplies and utilities. “We are relatively well positioned as a result if sustained investment in our food offers, the improvements in our range of beers and premium brands, and our freehold pub estate.”