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WH Smith is still upbeat in spite of drop in sales

WH SMITH yesterday reported a four per cent drop in group like-for-like sales as customers bought fewer books.

The figures for the 21 weeks to last weekend showed that the retailer’s High Street stores saw a comparative sales fall of five per cent while sales at its travel-based outlets dipped by two per cent.

WH Smith has been concentrating on its core books, stationery and confectionary markets rather than CDs and DVDs where it faces tough online competition.

The figures were in line with City forecasts – in spite of the big freeze which caused a downturn in passenger numbers at some of its travel outlets.

Chief executive Kate Swann is driving a cost-cutting programme at the retailer which has outlets at airports and stations across the UK.

She said that the company was on the “comeback trail”.

“The group delivered a good performance during the period. We made further progress in our high street business and our travel business continues to perform well, despite soft passenger numbers at airports.

“Although we remain cautious about consumer spending, we have planned accordingly and are confident in the outcome for the full year.”

Investec Securities said it continued to expect pre-tax profits of £86m for the year to 31 August, up from £82m last year. Analyst David Jeary said: “We would expect this to continue, given the more defensive characteristics of a retailer where the average transaction value is around £5.”

The bulk of the Christmas trading update season for retailers is now over with JJB Sports one of the few remaining companies left to reveal its figures.