Airports and railways power resurgence at WH Smith

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WH Smith grew sales at its travel-based stores amid a surge in air passengers while its high street network saw a decline due to a tough books market, half-year results yesterday showed.

Pre-tax profits across the group for the six months to the end of February were up 4 per cent to £72 million despite a 2 per cent fall in like-for-like sales.

The group tends to focus on margins rather than sales growth but still saw the latter improve by 3 per cent across its more than 700 travel units operating at airports, railway stations and motorway services as well as hospitals.

WH Smith said like-for-like sales at airports grew 4 per cent, boosted by higher passenger numbers as it developed travel essentials and digital accessories ranges as well as expanding in confectionery including Lindt and Thorntons boxed chocolates.

Rail like-for-like sales grew by 1 per cent, attributed to “improvements in the broader economic environment”, the retailer added, while in hospitals they rose 5 per cent.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke said the first half was “another strong performance”.

He added: “We are seeing improving trends across all formats in Travel, and in High Street our profit focused strategy continued to deliver over the key Christmas trading period.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to focus on profitable growth and cash generation while investing in new opportunities in both Travel and High Street that position us well for the future.”

The group’s interim dividend rose 12 per cent to 12.1p.

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