Punch Pubs has been bought by the private equity investor Fortress in a deal for almost 1,300 British pubs thought to be worth as much as £1bn.
The company’s pub landlords employ about 20,000 people, although Punch employs only 280 people directly.
Punch owns more than 90% of the freeholds of its properties, making it an attractive target for private equity owners. It is also focused on rural and suburban pubs, which have been less affected by absent commuters than city centre-focused chains.
Fortress is backed by Japan’s SoftBank and also owns Majestic Wine, a British chain of off-licences that it bought in 2019. Its latest purchase comes after it lost out in a protracted battle to acquire Morrisons in the autumn, being narrowly outbid in an auction for the British supermarket chain by its US private equity rival Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.
Punch was first taken private in 2016 after accepting a £400m takeover offer from the beer conglomerate Heineken and the private equity firms Patron Capital and May Capital. Punch owned 3,000 pubs when it was delisted in 2017 but under the 2016 deal, Heineken walked away with 1,900 of them, paying Patron and May £305m.
A £1bn sale would suggest its owners have enjoyed significant financial returns. Stephen Green, a senior partner at Patron Capital, said Punch “has been an extremely successful investment for our investors”, without giving details.
Punch felt confident enough to buy 56 pubs from Young’s in July despite the struggles of the hospitality industry, which is now contending with slumping trade because of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Private equity firms have bought a long series of British companies during the pandemic, targeting bargains particularly among undervalued listed businesses. However, these new owners are generally under pressure to give their investor backers returns within about five years, meaning more and more deals include private equity buyers and sellers.
Clive Chesser, who was installed as Punch’s chief executive by Patron in 2018, said the deal was “very positive news for everyone connected with Punch”.
He said Fortress “fully buys into our strategic positioning and business plan” and it would “work alongside the existing management team to invest in the business with innovation and capital”.
Cyril Courbage, a managing director at Fortress, said Punch had done an “exceptional job of navigating the challenges of the Covid crisis”. He added that the UK was “an extremely attractive investment environment”.