Profits hike at WH Smith hailed

WH SmithHalf-year figures from books and stationery retailer WH Smith have been hailed a "triumph" for outgoing boss Kate Swann as she shrugged off tough high street conditions to deliver a 5% hike in profits.

In her last set of results before stepping down in the summer, Ms Swann announced pre-tax profits of £69 million for the six months to February 28 as her strategy to prioritise profits over sales growth continued to pay off.

Trading profits in the high street chain rose 2% despite a 5% fall in like-for-like sales, while its stores based in travel sites such as airports, train stations and motorway service areas overcame a 4% slide in comparable sales to post a 7% increase in profits.

Ms Swann, who hands over the reins in June after 10 years to Steve Clarke, managing director of the high street division, said trading conditions were expected to remain tough, but added the business was in "good shape".

It also announced another change at the top, with non-executive chairman Walker Boyd retiring on August 31, to be replaced by senior independent director Henry Staunton.

Shares lifted 5% as investors cheered another resilient performance and a 13% rise in the shareholder dividend payout.

Dan Coen, director at advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper, said: "WH Smith's results are a triumph for Kate Swann. Other retailers on the high street need to sit up and take note of the stationer's successful strategy."

WH Smith has been cutting costs across the group to buoy profits in the face of a difficult sales environment and said it was on track to save £17 million this financial year by taking action such as rolling out more efficient tills, voice-picking technology across its distribution centres and pulping returns from a books publisher to reduce transport costs.

But the group is also investing, announcing the acquisition of the Past Times brand following the gift retailer's collapse into administration last year.

WH Smith also plans to introduce another 100 Kobo concessions within its stores selling e-readers and ebooks, while it aims to further expand its international travel sites. The group, which has 621 high street stores in the UK and 643 travel sites around the world, will open 30 small kiosks in China and 20 outlets across Australia, Scandinavia, Malaysia and the Middle East.

High Street casualties

High Street casualties

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