The UK’s two biggest pub companies, Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns, face years of “painful” restructuring, deleveraging and sub-inflation growth, according to a city analyst. Nigel Parson, of Evolution Securities, said in a note on the pub industry that while New Year statements were better than expected, 2009 still “looks to be very tough for licensed retail sector as the extent of the recession becomes apparent.” He added: “Recessions sorts the winners from the losers and the front-runners for both categories are easier to see after the latest round of trading statements. “At one end of the spectrum, Punch Taverns produced a shocker with a managed house collapse to add to the list of worries about this stock. “At the other end, Wetherspoon released top-of-range like-for-like sales.” Parson explained that in different market conditions he would recommend stock with the lowest multiples. “But in these markets, we think the safer option is to invest in potential winners. They may not be cheap on a relative basis but offer value on an absolute basis,” added Parson. He reiterated his recommendation of Wetherspoon, Mitchell & Butlers and Greene King and sell appraisal of Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns and Marston’s.