OUTGOING Punch boss Giles Thorley deserves some praise for his stewardship of the pubs firm through the recession.
He was quick to cut the group’s dividend and ruthlessly disposed of underperforming sites, even when they had symbolic importance. The recent share placing was also a broad success.
But there is no getting away from it: Punch entered the recession with far too much debt, which continues to hang around the firm’s neck like an albatross.
Earlier this month, Moody’s downgraded six classes of Punch Notes with an aggregate value of around £1.2bn – a huge chunk of the total debt pile of about £3bn. It cited declining ebitda and medium term cash flow as the major problems, issues that investors won’t have failed to notice.
Thorley’s successor will have a huge in-tray; as well as the stretched balance sheet, there are questions about the strength of its underperforming tenanted pubs arm.
In the short term, a change of leader simply adds to uncertainty. It’s going to take a lot more than a new man at the top to sort Punch Taverns out.