JD Wetherspoon is expected to report a sharp fall in profits when interim figures are released on Friday. Analysts predict a drop of between 14% and 18% to around £23m because of squeezed margins and higher energy prices. An increase in the minimum wage and the phasing in of a smoking ban at the group's 650 pubs are also likely to hit profits. Nigel Popham, of stockbrokers Teather & Greenwood, believes the smoking ban is "if not commercial suicide then certainly a severe injury". However James Wheatcroft, of Investec, says it is a "clever move" that would save Wetherspoon pain in the future. The group has scaled back expansion plans and is selling off 15 pubs at below book price. This could lead to a £5m write-off. The Mail on Sunday 27/02/05 (Financial Mail) page 11 The Sunday Times 27/02/05 (Business) page 3.11