Swann 'fully focused' at upbeat WH Smith

HIGH street stalwart WH Smith saw its profits edge higher after strong sales growth at its outlets in airports, train stations and motorway services.

Unveiling the group's half-year figures yesterday, chief executive Kate Swann, linked with the vacant top job at the Royal Mail, also said she was concentrating on her current role.

"I'm fully focused on doing the business for Smiths," she stressed. "Pretty much ever since I joined (in 2003] people have expected me to leave, and it's not happened yet."

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Sales for the six months to 28 February fell 2 per cent to 716 million but gross margins improved. Pre-tax profits of 62m, up from 61m, were slightly ahead of analysts' forecasts. The group's travel division – the 495 outlets at airports, stations and motorway services – lifted operating profits by 15 per cent to 23m as tight cost controls and better margins helped it overcome continued pressure on air passenger numbers.

WH Smith's defensive qualities – with its average transaction about 5 – have helped it weather the downturn.

The company underlined its optimism by offering a 13 per cent hike in its half-year dividend payment to 6.1p.