WH Smith plots overseas units to beat UK dip

WH SMITH plans to press on with its expansion of lucrative train and airport divisions and overseas units, after they helped the retailer buck the gloom on the high street.

The newspaper, books and stationary retailer saw profit before tax jump three per cent to £66m in the six months to the end of February despite a three per cent fall in group sales to £665m. Like-for-like sales, which strip out new openings or closings, were down five per cent.

The travel unit was the stand-out performer with an eight per cent rise in operating profit to £27m.

Chief executive Kate Swann now plans to open 17 new travel units in the UK in the second half of the year, on top of the 18 opened in the first half, while it announced a further 20 new stores overseas, bringing total planned international openings to 80.

Swann said: “Looking ahead, we expect the trading environment to be challenging, however we are a resilient business with a consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation and we have opportunities for growth in the UK and internationally.”

The retailer, which still has a strong balance sheet with net cash of £53m, also increased its interim dividend by 15 per cent to 8.3p.

Panmure Gordon analyst Philip Dorgan, said earnings per share growth of 14 per cent was “not to be sniffed at”.