WH Smith profit up; to start £50 mln share buyback

High street sales have been overshadowed by the retailer's travel business

Annual profits at WH Smith rose 7 per cent thanks to strong growth at its airport and train outlets.

"In response the company focused on building up the travel business in stations and airports, while managing the decline of the high street estate".

Trading profit at high street stores was flat at £62mln while total revenue fell 5% and like-for-like sales dropped 4%.

Pre-tax profits rose 7pc to £140m during the year.

Group revenue rose two per cent to £1.2bn, in line with analyst forecasts, with travel revenue up nine per cent, while high street revenue dipped five per cent.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive at WH Smith, said: "For the first time, revenue in travel has overtaken high street and travel is now the largest part of the group in both revenue and profit".

WH Smith has 582 travel stores across the United Kingdom, as well as a growing overseas footprint, with 233 worldwide shops.

"The Board has proposed a 10% increase in the final dividend and we have today announced a further share buyback of up to £50m reflecting the Group's cash generation and our confidence in the future prospects of the Group".

Hyett said the results marked a "important milestone" for WH Smith as travel becomes a major contributor to group performance and expects the trend to continue. It's continuing the focus on travel, with 15 new units opened in the United Kingdom during the year. And interim dividend was announced of 0.69p per share, up 10%.

This has come as the travel chain has grown consistently - boosted most recently by surging numbers of foreign travellers looking to take advantage of the weak pound, as well as rising numbers of United Kingdom passengers. Profit in Travel is up 10% to £96m, now over 60% of Group trading profit.

He added the "economic environment remains uncertain", but said WH Smith is well-placed for the year ahead.

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