WH Smith braced for a competitive Christmas

RETAILER WH Smith yesterday said it remains cautious about trading in the run up to Christmas after reporting a decline in sales in the first 10 weeks of the financial year. <br /><br />Total group sales in the period to 7 November dipped one per cent compared to the same period last year, while like-for-like sales at WH Smith Travel stores slid two per cent over the period.<br /><br />The high street sector saw the worst performance as like-for-like sales dropped four per cent, although the retailer reported that the figures were in line with its overall expectations.<br /><br />WH Smith said: &ldquo;We continue to focus on delivering our strategy to rebalance the mix of our business towards our core categories.&rdquo;<br /><br />The company has followed up on its October&nbsp;2009 announcement to return up to &pound;35m of cash to shareholders via a rolling share buyback programme. It has purchased approximately 1.1m shares to date at an average price of 503.905p.<br /><br />Despite WH Smith&rsquo;s anticipation of competitive trading over the Christmas period, the retailer said it has planned to cope with the markets accordingly. <br /><br />Singer Capital Markets analyst Matthew McEachran said: &ldquo;The company&rsquo;s defensive, low-ticket product offering is proving resilient.&rdquo;