W H Smith has reported a 4% rise in group profits for the six months to end February 2017, with spoof humour titles the key driver of sales in its books business. But sales in its High Street business showed a dip of 3% like-for-like on the previous year.
Group profit before tax was £83m, a rise of 4% on the first half of 2016 (£80m). In Travel, trading profit rose 11% to £39m (2016: £35m). High Street trading profit remained flat on the same period in 2016 at £53m - having been up against "a very strong performance last year" driven by strong sales from "colour therapy" titles. Group profit from trading operations rose 5% to £92m (2016: £88m).
Total Group sales were up 2% at £643m (2016: £633m), with Group like-for like sales flat. Travel sales were up 10% (5% like-for-like), but High Street sales fell 4% (3% down like-for-like).
Group chief executive Stephen Clarke branded the results a "good first half performance", attributing strong sales growth in its travel division to "continued investment in our UK and international businesses and growth in passenger numbers". He said its High Street division's profits were "in line with expectations".
In its books business, the retailer said, "spoof humour books were a key driver of sales while 'colour therapy' sales reduced significantly versus last year." It added: "We continue to look at how we can improve the efficiency of our books operating model, both in store and across our distribution and supply network, and expect to deliver further cost efficiencies in this area going forward."
In Travel, "We are on track to open around 15 new units in the UK this year", the company said.
Looking ahead, Clarke said 2017 was a "significant year" for the company, as its 225th year since the business was founded. "While there is some uncertainty in the broader economic environment, we will continue to focus on profitable growth, cash generation and investing in the business which positions us well in the current year and into the future," he said.