Shares in PizzaExpress fell 70p to 710p on Friday after rumours that the restaurant chain's management said privately the group will not match its full-year earnings expectations because of poor trading in London.

City sources say the group's chief financial officer said in private briefings with at least one analyst that the group will not match full-year expectations because of continued deterioration in the Central London market.

Central London accounts for around 60% of PizzaExpress's profits. One broker told clients in a note on Friday: "Management confided with brokers that they would not make numbers. The chain is therefore more sensitive to tourism and economic cycles that had been thought and management issues have risen again."

However, PizzaExpress's chief executive,

Page, said the group's guidance on London is unchanged, and business outside London remains "buoyant".

One City broker, Numis Securities moved PizzaExpress to "sell" from "add", cutting its price target to 600 pence from 875 and its 2002 pre-tax profit forecasts to £42m from £45m in 2002, and to £48m from £55m in 2003.

Numis's figures are well below the consensus of brokers, which suggest profits at PizzaExpress of £45.3m and £53.2m this year and next. But Numis told clients its move was based on a more immediate fundamental concern about PizzaExpress's current trading. It cited a continuing decline in like-for-like sales in central London, which it said would have a more serious effect on the decline in profits than had earlier been thought.

Numis recommended Ask Central as a high quality alternative without PizzaExpress's exposure to London.

PizzaExpress's management denied it had given fresh guidance to Numis in relation to current trading. David Page suggested Numis's analyst Andrew Saunders miscalculated growth expectations in an "add" note released on April 8

HSBC told clients in a report on Friday that it is looking to trim expectations on PizzaExpress as the market "becomes aware" that London trading is difficult. The broker said it was looking to cut current year pre-tax expectations by around 7%, principally to reflect the issue of weak London trading.

Shares in Ask Central rose 1.5p to 188.5p.