Punch Taverns has this morning revealed that like-for-like sales at its managed pub division have improved since the half year and were now down by 2.7%, compared with -3.4% at that point. Describing market conditions as “challenging” it said the that like-for-like sales performance at the Punch Pub Company reflected “improved trading” from the half-year. Outlining an interim management statement for the 44 weeks to 26 June 2010 it said that the average ebitda per pub in its tenanted estate was down by 5%, but added that this had benefited from estate churn. In a statement, the group, which will see chief executive Giles Thorley step down in September to be replaced by Ian Dyson, said: “We continue to invest in the future of our core estate and are on target to invest in over 800 pubs by the financial year end. “Management actions have had a positive impact in strengthening the estate with a more stable partner base and fewer closed pubs; however profits remain under pressure as lower drinks margin coupled with reduced rental income from returned pubs impacts profit.” It said it had increased the percentage of pubs let on substantive agreements to 84%, only has 200 closed pubs and added that it expected to sell those within the next couple of months. Financial support to tenants was stable, said Punch, at £2m per month. On the managed side, Punch said: “Operating margins have continued to improve since the half year and remain broadly in line with last year. “Our pub investment programme and trial and roll-out of new pub concepts continue apace and returns on investment continue to be in line with our expectations. We expect to have invested in over 200 pubs during the course of the full financial year to August 2010.” Punch said it had raised £230m and £33m from the sale of non-core estate leased and managed pubs respectively. For the full year it expects this to be in the region of £300m. Net debt at the group stood at £3.2bn as of 26 June – however Punch added that this was in the form of “long term mortgage type finance” and consequently it has “no refinancing requirements”. It said it would use £170m of free cash and £137m worth of bonds to underpin the net asset value of the group and protect debt structures from defaulting. On the future, the group said it expected the trading outlook in the near term to continue to be “uncertain”. It added: “The tax rises and reduction in public spending announced in the recent budget will inevitably put further pressure on unemployment levels, reduce disposable incomes and constrain consumer confidence. Against this backdrop, we believe it is sensible to plan cautiously and have prepared our financial plans accordingly. “However, we are encouraged by our current trading momentum and are confident that the business change programmes and continued management actions in both sides of our estate are strengthening the business to deliver solid longer-term operational performance.”