Sales in travel business boosted by growing passenger numbers
WH Smith has reported a dip in profits for the six months to 28 February, with a strong performance in its travel business not enough to withstand decline in high street sales.
The group blamed a “challenging” Christmas period, which was difficult in terms of book sales, “particularly given the success of colour therapy titles and spoof humour books over the past two Christmas periods”.
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WH Smith enjoyed strong sales of colouring books aimed at adults during the festive season two years ago, and in 2016 ranges like the Enid Blyton for Grown Ups series, featuring titles such as Five Give Up The Booze, boosted turnover.
As there was no similar new publishing trend over Christmas 2017, WH Smith said, sales dropped by seven per cent, pulling overall profit from high street stores down to £50m, compared with £53m the year before.
Business was booming in the company’s travel arm, however. The firm grew profit by 5 per cent to £41m, up from £39m, partly helped by an increase in passenger numbers across both rail and air travel.
"Our high street business delivered a good first half performance, despite no publishing trend to match last year's strong sales of humour books over Christmas,” said Stephen Clarke, WH Smith’s chief executive.
“These results are only possible through the hard work of all of our teams across the business and I am very grateful for their hard work and support.
"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% and are confident in the outcome for the full year."
Shares dropped more than 2 per cent in early trading on Thursday.