WH Smith sales plunge 85% amid lockdown

WH Smith has revealed that group total revenue plunged 85% in April in light of the ongoing pandemic.

Following the nationwide and global lockdown, travel revenue plummeted 91% last month, while high street revenue tumbled 74%.

It comes as the retailer closed most of its UK stores, excluding 203 Post Office sites and 130 hospital stores. 

Nonetheless, in the six months ended 29 February, group revenue was up 7%, whilst UK travel revenue was up 19%. Trading profit for travel was also up 11%, largely driven by “ongoing investment and initiatives” in both UK and international businesses.  

In light of the nationwide lockdown, however, high street trading profit was down 8% to £44m in the six-month period, while total high street revenue was down 5% to £315m. 

The UK travel business also experienced a “significant decline” in passenger numbers as a result of travel bans, with the vast majority of our stores at airports and railway stations having been temporarily closed.

Nonetheless, its online businesses “performed strongly” in its half-year results, with a 400% increase in book sales over the past month alone. 

In order to shore up cash in light of the ongoing pandemic, the group has now halted all discretionary expenditure and reduced corporate overheads “to a minimum”.

It is also working alongside landlords to “significantly reduce or remove rent payments”, and has deferred tax payments in line with government announcements.

In addition, the group has also secured an additional £120m in funding through a committed banking facility from BNP Paribas, HSBC Bank PLC and Santander UK PLC.

The board announced that it will not be making an interim dividend payment in the current financial year. 

Carl Cowling, group CEO, said: “There was very little impact of Covid-19 on our first half results, however inevitably the performance in the second half will be very different.  

Since March, we have seen a significant impact on our business as a result of Covid-19, with the majority of our stores closed around the world.” 

He added: “We were fast to react to the situation and issued new equity via a placing, raising c.£162m on 6 April 2020. We also secured an additional £120m of bank funding.

“We are a resilient and versatile business and with the operational actions we have taken including managing costs and the new financing arrangements, we are in a strong position to navigate this time of uncertainty and are well positioned to benefit in due course from the normalisation and growth of our key markets.”

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