WH Smith posts rise in pre-tax profits as travel business continues to thrive though high street sales fall

Rebecca Smith
WH Smith's travel business is more than pulling its weight
WH Smith's travel business is more than pulling its weight (Source: Getty)

WH Smith posted a 3.75 per cent rise in first-half pre-tax profit as its travel business continues to provide a boost for the retailer, though like-for-like sales were flat.

Read more: WH Smith's share price climbs on share buyback announcement

The figures

WH Smith, which has more than 1,300 stores predominantly in the UK, said profit before tax for the six months to 28 February rose to £83m from £80m last year.

Trading profit at the travel division, including airports, railway stations, motorway services and hospitals, rose 11 per cent to £39m as passenger numbers grew.

However, sales at its high street business dropped four per cent, with trading profits remaining flat, in part due to the waning popularity of the adult colouring book craze which had boosted results last year.

Shares edged down two per cent in morning trading to 1,788p at the time of writing.

Why it's interesting

The adult colouring book craze hasn't lasted in popularity, after drawing sales higher for WH Smith last year. But spoof humour books and parodies of classics from the 1950s and 60s have been picking up some of the slack; with the likes of Five on Brexit Island proving popular.

The firm said books benefited "from good sales of spoof humour titles".

Spoof books have been a hit
Spoof books have been a hit (Source: WH Smith)

Read more: Adult colouring-in books helps WH Smith to growth

What the company said

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive, said: "In our growing international business, we have now won 255 stores including 10 stores in Singapore following a significant tender win in Changi Airport – one of the world’s largest international airports and a key hub in Asia.

Looking ahead, 2017 is a significant year for us as we celebrate 225 years since the business was founded. And, while there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we will continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in the business which positions us well in the current year and into the future.

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