Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries has announced that its current trading is in line with expectations. Britain's biggest regional brewer said yesterday that it was performing as predicted in the first 25 weeks of the current financial year to 20 March 2004.

In a trading update, the company said The Union Pub Company has performed well, with like-for-like sales up by 5.2% over the period. Second-half performance will be assisted by the contribution of 25 pubs transferred from Pathfinder Pubs and by pub acquisitions.

To date, contracts have been exchanged or are completed for the purchase of 11 pubs, and negotiations for a further nine are at an advanced stage.

In Pathfinder Pubs, the company said it is making good progress with the major refurbishment programme, 30 having been completed during the period. This programme continues to deliver cash returns above the target of 20%.

The new build programme is also underway, with three sites under development and a further 28 under negotiation.

Total like-for-like sales were up by 2.8% for the period, despite the fact that more pubs were closed for refurbishment in the second quarter, as planned.

Trading in WDB Brands has been satisfactory in a competitive market, with good progress being made in respect of the planned investment in the Banks's brand and the launch of Marston's FC.

The operating margin for the business overall has been maintained in line with last year and cash generation continues to be strong.

The company said it has just completed a successful re-financing which will reduce future borrowing costs and provide scope to exploit acquisition opportunities or to make further returns to shareholders.

In the update, chief executive Ralph Findlay said: "Our first half performance shows that we have good underlying trading momentum and are implementing our growth initiatives in line with our plans."

The interim results for the period will be announced on 21 May 2004.