WH Smith warns of worst month, despite strong Christmas



WH Smith has warned it is heading for its worst month since at least September, despite a strong Christmas period.

The high street retailer stated that sales so far in January have been 46% of the same period a year ago.

This is a major step down from last month, when sales were 67% above December 2019, and even higher in its high street stores.

Chief executive Carl Cowling said: “In our high street business, we worked hard to navigate our way through the evolving Covid restrictions as we approached the Christmas trading period.

“This positioned us well, resulting in a better than expected Christmas with sales in December at 92% of 2019 levels.

“Our online businesses continued to deliver significant year-on-year growth in the period.”

January has proved trickier for many retailers, as much of the UK remains under strict lockdown measures.

Both WH Smith’s travel and high street stores were badly hit across the month.

Travel proved the more susceptible, with sales coming in at 30% of last year’s levels – and the figures had also been low in December.

“In our travel business, we saw little change in the environment prior to the current lockdown, as expected, with sales in December at 36% of 2019 levels,” Cowling said.

“In North America, we have seen a quicker recovery versus the rest of the world, given the higher volume of domestic travel.”

WH Smith said it had not experienced any disruption over the period due to Brexit – and it does not expect the changes to have a material impact on its ability to import stock during the coming year.

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Commenting on the results, John Moore, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said that the business has adapted well to the pandemic and is trading ahead of where many would expect it to be, with reasonable amounts of cash to see it through.

“The faster recovery of its US business also underlines the importance of its 2018 acquisition of InMotion and, with that, geographical diversification.

“The key question for WH Smith is when and to what degree travel will return in the future, which remains the biggest risk the business faces.”



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