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Not funny as WHS sales tumble

Travel unit now leads for retailers after High Street fall blamed on lack of publishing trends


TUMBLING High Street sales at WH Smith have been blamed on a lack of new publishing trends, but the retailers have reported growth in their key travel unit, now the company’s largest section, and are confident for the rest of the year.

Released today, Thursday, April 12, the interim results announcement for the six months to February 28 shows pre-tax profits fell one per cent to £82million due to a six per cent drop in High Street profits while the travel trading profits rose by five per cent to £41m.
Total travel sales were up three per cent on a like-for-like basis while High Street sales fell four per cent, sending group LFL revenue down one per cent, as total group revenue stayed flat at £643m, the same as the previous year.
Last year, WH Smith results were boosted by the rising popularity of spoof humour books, but the effects of that trend have now dissipated, and chief executive Stephen Clarke said there was “no publishing trend to match last year's strong sales of humour books over Christmas”.
He added: “Our High Street business delivered a good first half performance. Stationery performed particularly well in the period, including our seasonal categories over Christmas and our 2018 fashion ranges.
“In travel, which is the largest part of the group in both sales and profit, we continue to see strong sales growth, up seven per cent, driven by continued investment in our UK and international businesses and ongoing growth in passenger numbers. As a result, profit in travel was up five per cent in the period.
“We have also had a record period for tender wins internationally, with 26 new units won since the start of the year, including eight units in Madrid Airport and our first seven units in South America in Rio de Janeiro. We are now present in 48 airports across 27 countries.
“While there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we have made a good start to the second half of the financial year, increased the interim dividend by 10 per cent and are confident in the outcome for the full year.”
Julie Palmer, partner at insolvency firm Begbies Traynor, told City AM newspaper: “Yet again, WH Smith’s interim results have laid bare the ever-widening wedge between their buoyant travel business and the group’s ever-struggling High Street division.
“It's clear that WH Smith have found a safe harbour in the storm that’s threatening so many other High Street retailers today.”

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