WH Smith targets overseas growth as UK stalls

Newspapers, books and stationery retailer WH Smith plans to expand domestically and internationally, focusing on new stores at travel hubs and in growing overseas markets which are helping offset weakness on Britain's high streets.

WH Smith, which operates over 1,100 stores primarily in Britain, said that profit before tax rose to £66m in the six months ending to 29 February 2012, up from £64m during the same period in 2011.

"We expect the trading environment to be challenging," chief executive Kate Swann said in a statement.

"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 said it planned to open 20 new shops in India, Australia, Qatar, Gibraltar, Dubai, Fiji and Saudi Arabia, taking its total number of overseas stores opened or agreed to 80. It runs the international stores through a mixture of franchises, joint-ventures and direct leases.

"We will continue to grow our international channel in a low risk and pragmatic way, utilising our different operating models," the company said.

WH Smith said its resilient Travel unit, which includes stores at airports, train stations, and motorway service stations, performed well with operating profit up eight per cent to £27m from £25m. The division plans to open 17 new units in Britain in the second half of the year.

Operating profit at its High Street division was flat at £47m with like-for-like sales down five per cent.