Pub group Enterprise Inns reported trading in line with expectations on Friday and said it was ahead of schedule with its £200m share buyback.

Enterprise, whose estate of around 4,500 tenanted pubs includes favourites such as The Poet’s Corner in Cardiff and The Compass Rose in Portsmouth, said it expected pre-tax and operating profit for the six months to March to be in line with its expectations.

”The business has continued to perform well in a market made challenging by relative consumer weakness and continuing cost and legislative pressures on our licensees,” the group said. Shares gained 0.2 per cent to 950p in morning trade.

Enterprise Inns has just 140 pubs in Scotland, where a new smoking ban took effect on Sunday, but could face greater disruption when a ban comes into force in England and Wales next year.

The group said it would continue to buy back shares in the second half of the year, having returned £191m to shareholders against the target set in November of returning £200m over the financial year.

Enterprise Inns does not disclose profits targets but analysts expect it to report full-year pretax profits of £330.1m in 2006, compared to £305.6m in 2005.

Charles Wilson, analyst at Bridgewell Securities, maintained a buy rating on the stock, saying Enterprise “is our favourite pub stock, due to the attractive business model, low risk profile of the estate and first rate management team.”

Matthew Gerard, analyst at Investec, kept a sell rating however, saying, “With tenants facing tougher competition, a declining beer market and significant cost pressures, we think Enterprise will struggle to extract ongoing rent and beer price increases from tenants.”

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