Sales slide puts a dentin 'resilient' WHSmith

WHSmith, the book and stationery retailer, touted a "resilient" performance since September, but underlying sales fell at both its travel and high street divisions.

However, the group said its trading was in line with market expectations. The company's high street stores suffered a 4 per cent fall in underlying sales from 1 September to 6 November, but its travel stores on the motorway, railway stations and at airports posted like-for-like sales down only by 1 per cent.

The company said: "We remaina resilient business and are well-positioned for continued growth in the future." WHSmith has overhauled its product offer over the past few years by ditching low-margin entertainment products, such as CDs and DVDs, to focus on higher-margin items, notably books and stationery.

WHSmith said: "We continue to focus on delivering our strategy to rebalance the mix of our business towards our core categories."

The retail group reaffirmed its commitment to return up to £50m of cash to shareholders through its share buyback programme. To date, the group has purchased about 1.2 million shares at an average price of 481.33p.

Nick Bubb, an analyst at Arden Partners, describe the performance of the retailer as a "a tad disappointing" but said: "WHSmith is expert at engineering higher gross margins and lower costs out of the business mix and we are happy with our full-year £94m [profit forecast] at this stage, with the key Christmas spending and summer travel periods to come."

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