Sales up at expanding WH Smith

News - Bookselling Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Christmas trading statement shows total sales up 6% but like-for-likes flat and no mention of books; familiar pattern of travel division up whilst high street down

WH Smith released its Christmas trading statement this morning, covering the 20 week period to 19 January 2019, detailing a 'strong trading performance' according to the retailer.

Total sales for the period were up 6%, but, if the added sales from the recently-purchased American digital accessory business InMotion are stripped out, the sales growth falls to 3%. Like-for-like sales, which exclude the impact of new stores, were flat for the 20 weeks.

In the Travel division, total sales were up 16% (up 8% excluding InMotion) with like-for-like sales up 3%. According to the statement: 'We saw good sales growth across all of our key channels and gross margin was in line with plan. Our store opening programme in the UK is on track and we expect to open around 20 new units this year. We continued to roll out our new concept airport stores in Heathrow during the period and feedback from both landlord and customers has been positive.'

The International business now has 420 units, including 116 InMotion stores, across 28 countries and over 90 airports outside of the UK.

There was no mention of the impact of the Gatwick drone disruption before Christmas, which may have proved beneficial to sales at stores at the airport, with passengers trapped in terminals. The entire statement was also notable in making no specific references to books anywhere.

According to the statement: 'Our High Street business traded well during the period. Total sales were down 1% with like-for-like sales down 2%. We continued to grow the gross margin and are on track to deliver the planned £9m of cost savings for the year.'

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive, said: "The Group has delivered a strong trading performance with total sales up 6% and like-for-like sales flat.

"Our Travel business continued to grow across all channels. This was driven by our ongoing investment in the business, including the roll out of our new concept stores at Heathrow, and growth in air passenger numbers.

"High Street delivered a good performance, particularly in Stationery, driven by good growth in Christmas cards, wrap, diaries and fashion stationery.

"Looking ahead, whilst there is existing uncertainty in the broader economic environment, the Group is well positioned for the year ahead and beyond." Interim Results will be released on 11 April.

The share price last night was 1,876p, riding on early trading to 1,910p this morning. It has drifted down over the last 12 months from a high of 2,182p last Janaury, although five years ago it was 1045p.

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