WH Smith toasting a ‘good profit performance’ as it keeps grip on costs

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WH Smith shrugged off a tenth successive year of falling Christmas sales as it highlighted a “good profit performance” driven by a continued squeeze on costs.

Like-for-like sales were down four per cent for the 20 weeks to January 18.

They have been consistently negative for this period 
since 2005 but the retailer’s strategy of focusing instead on margins is admired by City analysts.

Its 615 high street stores saw a fall of six per cent but WH Smith said there was good margin improvement and costs were tightly managed.

In the retailer’s travel division, which has 673 units at airports, railway stations and motorway services, like-for-like sales were down one per cent, again with margin improvement, and a store opening programme progressing well.

The group said it had identified further opportunities for growth in both the UK and abroad.

It also began to deliver on its pledge of returning £50m of cash to investors, buying 1.6 million shares at an average price of £9.57 - after last year reporting annual profits up six per cent to £108m.

Chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “During the period we have delivered another good profit performance across the group with costs tightly controlled.”

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