While the pound plummeting over 7% against the U.S. Dollar in the span of a few hours means the market isn’t optimistic about UK’s economy in the short term, there are a handful of companies that could find weaker sterling a major boost to business. Foremost amongst these are the tourist attractions of Merlin Entertainment (LSE: MERL), who’s brands include Legoland, Alton Towers and Madam Tussauds.
Merlin could benefit on two fronts from the weaker pound. On one hand, foreign tourists will find it cheaper to ride the London Eye or visit Warwick Castle. At the same time, British holiday makers who might usually visit America or Europe will find it more expensive, possibly prompting them to stay closer to home.
The company will need all the help it can get, as revenue growth last year was a relatively tame 2.3% and underlying operating profits fell 6.2%, owing to a dramatic fall in attendance at Alton Towers following a serious accident.
And the fact that this accident is supposed to hit attendance for two years, combined with slow revenue growth and a relatively lofty valuation of 21 times forward earnings, leaves me pessimistic that a weak pound will prove the company’s saving grace.
If the weaker pound does lead to increased tourism across the UK, one segment that is bound to prosper is hotels. Whitbread (LSE: WTB) is well positioned to benefit from this trend thanks to its 737 Premier Inns across the UK. Continued economic tailwinds have already improved Whitbread’s bottom line — the company’s hotels grew sales by 12.9% last year, as total room capacity grew 9.8%.
Of course, if the expected economic aftershocks of Brexit leads to a decrease in business travel, the upside of increased tourism could be negated. The good news is that Whitbread still has Costa Coffee to fall back on. In 2015 the coffee chain enjoyed revenue growth of 16.3% in the UK on the back of new stores openings and a 2.9% jump in like-for-like sales. While global sales are a small portion of Whitbread’s overall revenue, they would also enjoy a boost come earnings season as foreign sales are converted into weaker pounds. All in all, a weaker pound could prove a major asset for Whitbread in the short term.
Near the top of the list for many foreign visitors to the UK is a having a few pints in a pub. While traditional family-owned pubs have largely gone the way of the Dodo, having been rolled up into sprawling pub chains such as Marston’s (LSE: MARS), few tourists seem to mind. Marston’s has done well from industry consolidation and in the past half year improved underlying sales by 11.5% and underlying pre-tax profits by 11.8%.
This growth has come not only due to better performance from the brewing side of the business, but also a 3% rise in like-for-like sales at the company’s managed and leased pubs. Any rise in tourism will also benefit Marston’s as it now offers accommodation at more than 50 of its pubs. This is part of a larger industry trend towards higher-end food and lodging as a means of increasing flagging footfall. A weaker pound would help Marston’s on all these fronts, although the company’s high net debt at 5 times underlying EBITDA will keep me on the sideline for now.
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Ian Pierce has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.