Hungry travellers provide sales lift at WH Smith

WH Smith is one of the oldest names in British retailing. Picture: Michael GillenWH Smith is one of the oldest names in British retailing. Picture: Michael Gillen
WH Smith is one of the oldest names in British retailing. Picture: Michael Gillen

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High street stalwart WH Smith has notched up its strongest annual sales gains for 14 years as it was boosted by solid demand across its travel sites.

During the year to the end of August, the chain sold more than ten million meal deals, helping drive a 4 per cent hike in like-for-like sales at the travel division, which operates outlets in airports and railway stations.

This helped to offset a 2 per cent dip in comparable sales across the group’s high street branches and left overall group sales up 1 per cent on a like-for-like basis, or 3 per cent in total – its best growth since 2002.

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WH Smith, which was founded more than 200 years ago, posted an 8 per cent increase in bottom-line pre-tax profits to £131 million.

It also announced a further return of cash to shareholders of up to £50m following the completion of a £42m share buyback unveiled last October.

The board is proposing a final dividend of 30.5p per share, up 12 per cent on a year earlier, giving a total payout per share of 43.9p, a rise of 11 per cent.

Analysts at RBC Capital Markets described the firm’s results and outlook as “solid”. They noted: “WH Smith remains one of our best ideas in general retail for exposure to strong global travel trends, active space management, favourable mix impacts on margin and ongoing cost savings and cash returns.”

While sales fell at the high street division, an ongoing tight control on costs helped drive a 5 per cent rise in trading profits to £62m.

The group also cheered the success of its new book club with YouTube star Zoella, which launched in June and has already seen good sales.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “Our travel business continues to perform well with strong sales across all channels. We have further extended our food to go ranges and during the year we sold over ten million ‘meal deals’.

“Internationally, we have won a further 32 stores in the year, giving us a total of 232 stores won across 25 countries.

“In the high street business, our profit focused strategy continues to deliver sustainable growth.”

The group employs some 14,000 staff.

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