Punch Taverns, the Staffordshire- based pubs operator, served up a frothing set of annual results as trade was boosted by the addition of 1,000 outlets to its estate.
Pre- tax profits before amortisation and exceptionals rose by 28 per cent to £207 million for the year to August 20 compared with £161 million last year as turnover reached £770 million, a 21 per rise.
And Punch, the UK's second biggest pub owner with 8,227 sites, said it was "well placed" to make further acquisitions as speculation mounted that it may be preparing a bid for rival group Spirit, thought to be worth around £3 billion.
Like-for-like sales grew by 2.5 per cent over the year, but actual sales were up 21 per cent at £770 million following the addition of nearly 1,000 pubs to the business.
Punch, which undertook a major debt restructuring exercise earlier this year, took on 471 InnSpired pubs in September last year and 409 Avebury pubs in August. It also bought 106 independent pubs during the year.
The acquisitions followed the purchase of Pubmaster in 2003 for £1.2 billion.
Chief executive Giles Thorley said: "We have had another year of good progress driven by organic growth and valueenhancing acquisitions.
"With the constant application of our proven strategy our enlarged estate will continue to deliver sustained growth.
"Current trading is satisfactory and in line with the board's expectations.
"We remain well placed to acquire further quality pubs through piecemeal and innovative corporate acquisitions."
Asked about possible bid for independent rival Spirit, Punch said: "We do not comment on market rumour."
The InnSpired pubs - bought for £213 million - contributed to 49 weeks of the trading year and "represented excellent value" as sales grew by 4.5 per cent.
The Avebury pubs, which cost £219 million, only contributed to two weeks trading.
Punch said: " Both InnSpired and Avebury offer great potential for growth. The performance of the former Pubmaster estate provides a real illustration of the potential." Pre-tax profits were ahead of City expectations of £198.1 million.
Chief operating officer Adrian Fawcett said Punch had successfully applied for extensions to opening hours for 98 per cent of the company's landlords - but for only an average of six extra hours a week.
"We have only one pub that has applied for a 24-hour licence and that is close to the docks in Dover so the local council thought it was appropriate."
The paperwork involved in complying with the licensing regime, under which local councils have taken over the job from magistrates, had been a "massive administrative exercise", Mr Fawcett added.
Punch does not expect the proposed smoking ban to hit business. Mr Thorley said: "I don't think it will have much of an effect. The timescale is quite long with it not coming in until 2007 or 2008.
"Over 4,000 of our pubs have no smoking areas already, so by the time legislation comes in, customers will be pretty relaxed about it."