WH Smith sales drop – but margins improve

WH Smith said higher profit margins offset a bigger-than-expected fall in sales over Christmas, due to disruptions caused by severe winter weather.

The newspaper, books and stationery group said sales at town centre stores open over a year fell seven per cent in the eight weeks to 22 January, excluding entertainment products, which it plans to stop selling.

Most analysts had forecast a decline of about five per cent. However, the group said its gross profit margin improved ahead of its expectations.

Over the 21 weeks to 22 January, underlying sales were down six per cent.

Sales at travel outlets open over a year were down three per cent over the 21 weeks.

The group did not give an eight-week figure for its travel arm.

"Overall performance for the period was in line with expectations," it said.

"Looking ahead, we expect the trading environment to remain challenging and we have planned accordingly."