Belfast Telegraph

WH Smith sees high street falls offset by airport and railway shops

Retailer WH Smith has confirmed under-pressure high street sales continue to be offset by its growing chain of shops based at airports and railway stations.

The stationer and newsagent saw total sales in its travel arm jump 8% higher in the 15 weeks to June 10, including a 2% fillip from the weak pound on revenues at overseas stores.

Like-for-like sales at the division rose 5%, while same-store sales fell 4% across its high street estate.

This left total like-for-like sales flat in the quarter.

WH Smith said rising passenger numbers have helped push travel sales higher, while it has also been benefiting from expansion efforts.

It is on target to open 15 UK travel outlets this year, with more planned internationally including six in Rome due to open next month.

The group continues to focus on profits and cost cutting at its high street business and said the sales fall was expected, although it marks a steeper decline against the 3% drop seen in the first half.

WH Smith said it remained "confident" in the full-year result, despite "some uncertainty with regard to the broader economic environment".

Shares in WH Smith lifted 2% after its third quarter update.

Analysts at Peel Hunt said the update was "upbeat" thanks to an "extremely strong" performance at the travel division.

They noted the chance WH Smith might spin off its travel arm.

"A demerger is a distinct possibility here as the strength of the travel business becomes ever clearer," they said.

WH Smith has been helped by strong growth in air passengers across the UK and Europe while a relentless focus on costs at the high street business is offsetting sliding sales.

The group has earmarked another £3 million of savings for the second half, bringing the full-year total to £10 million.

It is also bringing Post Offices into its stores, with another 58 relocated since last April, taking the total so far to 165.

WH Smith employs around 14,000 staff and has 613 high street stores and nearly 800 outlets in the travel arm.