Tough conditions in the UK beer and pub sector have seen Greene King report a slump in profit for its first half.

Pre-tax profit before exceptional items fell by 15% to GBP60m (US$89m) for the 24 weeks ended 19 October, Greene King said today (2 December). Revenue was GBP445m, flat compared to the same period last year.

The beer and pub operator warned of "challenging and volatile" trading conditions, but said a strong cashflow would allow it to match last year's shareholder dividend of GBP0.73 per share.

Beer revenues were flat for the period, at GBP41.4m. Own-brewed volumes dropped by 3.8% during the 24 weeks, reflecting declines in the on-trade. Flagship brand Old Speckled Hen increased volumes by 6% in the off-trade, while Abbot Ale held its ground on 2007, the brewer said.

Beer sales in the UK are at their lowest since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with five pubs closing every day on average, according to figures from the British Beer and Pub Association.

Greene King said in its outlook: "Due to the level of forward bookings already received across the business, we anticipate that Christmas will bring an uplift relative to current sales. However, we believe external conditions are likely to worsen again in the New Year."