On 21 July 2022, I travelled to London to attend the AGM of Fuller, Smith & Turner PLC, better known as Fuller’s. The AGM was held at one of their own pubs, the George IV on Chiswick High Road.
The meeting commenced at 11.00 and the chairman introduced those members of the board who would be seeking re-election. He then went through a detailed timeline of events since the beginning of the covid outbreak, detailing not only the restrictions imposed at various times and the impact on the company’s ability to operate, but also how this presented an opportunity to further invest in the estate and refurbish closed venues. Although the pandemic interrupted the company’s long history of progressively increasing dividends, these have now resumed and the company remains optimistic for the future.
He went through the trading statement that had been issued to the stock exchange that morning, detailing trading in the first 16 weeks of the financial year. Sales are up by 3% on pre-pandemic levels and debt is down. The company will soon open a second site landside at Heathrow Terminal 2 to complement the existing (and very successful) airside pub ‘London’s Pride’. He went through a recent revaluation exercise the directors have undertaken to identify the value of the company’s freehold estate. The results suggest, based on the director’s estimates, the estate is worth approaching £1bn, around £400m more than the book value shown in the accounts. At the higher valuation, the net asset value of each share would be £13.80, rather than the £7.27 based on the book value.
The meeting was opened up to questions, and I asked for an update on the company’s experience of cask ale sales since reopening. The chairman responded by thanking the club for its many years of support, before handing to the chief exec for a more detailed response. The CEO said that the company remains committed to cask ale and, while demand has not recovered to pre-covid levels, they are seeking to promote the style and have a range of interesting guest ales lined up for distribution through the estate.
Questions from other shareholders included:
- A request for more detail about the revaluation methodology.
- A question on the balance of the estate between city and country locations.
- A comment on the exclusion of private shareholders from the share placing (the chairman pointed out that the shares are now available in the market for less than the placing price, so no-one has lost out).
- A query on the changed qualification criteria for the shareholder ‘Indulgence’ card. (The company secretary explained that, although new shareholders need to hold 1,000 shares, the 500 share threshold has been rolled-over for existing shareholders).
Following the meeting, shareholders present were given two free pints of London Pride, which I enjoyed in the beer garden, along with a number of other members of the club who were present in their capacity as individual shareholders.
Overall, the company appears to be coping with both recovery from the pandemic, and the recent difficult economic circumstances.
Ian Brindley – CMIC Committee Member