WH Smith upbeat as profits rise

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THE popularity of Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography as a Christmas stocking filler was not enough to prevent a sales slide at WH Smith’s high street stores, the group said.

Like-for-like sales in the division were down 6 per cent in the half-year to February 28 as the retailer faced “challenging markets” and a weaker book publishing roster. Like-for-like sales across the group were down 4 per cent.

However WH Smith, which tends to focus on margins rather than sales, was still able to announce pre-tax profits of £69m, up 3 per cent on the same period a year before, as it hiked its interim dividend by 15 per cent.

The company continued to keep a tight rein on costs while looking to maximise returns, slashing the space given to older fiction titles and adding extra post office counters in its more-than 600 high street stores.

In books, it said the strongest performance was from its children’s range, but added: “In adult, apart from the Sir Alex Ferguson autobiography, Christmas hardback publishing was weaker than last year.”

The travel division, which has more than 700 sites mainly in airports, railway stations and at motorway services, saw like-for-like sales fall 1 per cent but this reflected an improving trend thanks to a pick-up in UK air passengers.

Its food-to-go offer was expanded at railway stations and hospitals, where it also operates some stores in partnership with Marks & Spencer under the Simply Food brand.

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