Margin growth offsets sales fall for WH Smith

 
Kasmira Jefford
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Books and stationery retailer WH Smith yesterday said strong margins helped to underpin profits and offset a five per cent fall in like-for-like sales over Christmas.

Sales at high street stores open more than a year slipped five per cent in the 20 weeks to 20 January 2013, but WH Smith said gross margins “improved strongly” and costs were tightly managed to fend off tough trading conditions.

WH Smith’s travel arm, which includes 619 stores at airports, train stations, and motorway service stations, reported a four per cent drop in like-for-like sales.

“We expect the trading environment to remain challenging however we are a resilient business with a consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation, and are confident in making further progress” said outgoing chief executive Kate Swann.

Steve Clarke, head of the firm’s high street arm, will takeover in July.

During her nine-year tenure, Swann has expanded WH Smith into more lucrative travel locations. She has exited the ailing entertainment market while also focusing on selling more profitable products.