RETAILER WH Smith nudged profits higher today after it gained a boost from its division serving UK airports, train stations and motorway services.
The travel arm, which operates from 495 sites, lifted half-year operating profits by 15% to £23 million as tight cost controls and better margins helped it overcome continued pressure on air passenger numbers.
Sales in the division were down by 2% on a like-for-like basis but WH Smith said it continued to outperform the trend in passenger numbers.
Overall, group profits for the six months to February 28 rose 2% to £62 million after a steady performance from the core high street business.
The division delivered operating profits of £47 million, unchanged on a year earlier and despite a 4% fall in like-for-like sales. This was in line with expectations after WH Smith rebalanced the mix of the business away from lower margin CD and DVDs and on to books, stationery and confectionery markets.
Like-for-like sales excluding entertainment products were down 1% on a year earlier.
WH Smith’s defensive qualities - with an average transaction cost of around £5 - has helped it weather the tough trading conditions.
Chief executive Kate Swann said: "Looking forward, we remain cautious about consumer spending and our plans reflect this. We are confident in the outcome for the full year."
The company underlined its optimism by offering a 13% hike in its half-year dividend payment.