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JD Wetherspoon shares lift on investors' dividend hopes

JD Wetherspoon&rsquo;S shares climbed yesterday after the pubs group said it expects to complete a refinancing of its debt by March next year, raising hopes it will resume dividend payments and overshadowing a slowing in the rate of its sales growth.<br /><br />The group&rsquo;s shares lifted by almost three per cent to 477.7p by the close.<br /><br />The bargain boozer and food pub chain said total sales for the 13 weeks to 25 October were up 4.5 per cent with like-for-like sales lifting to a more modest 0.3 per cent increase over the period.<br /><br />The group said the slowdown reflected tough comparables from the same period the year before which used voucher promotion schemes to lure in customers and push up sales. <br /><br />Evolution Securities analyst Nigel Parson said: &ldquo;Wetherspoon has made an encouraging start to the new year. Like for like sales have slipped slightly reflecting lower marketing activity this quarter but margins are fractionally ahead. The new pub plan is on track and could accelerate further when the refinancing is complete. &rdquo;<br /><br />Wetherspoon said it had opened seven new pubs in the period and hoped to unveil 40 new sites in the current financial year. The average cost of opening a new site was between &pound;700,000 and &pound;800,000.