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WH Smith grew revenues in the second half of last year as the global travel market continues to recover and it expands its number of airport outlets.

The group has issued a trading update for the 20-week period to 20 January 2024 ahead of its AGM today.

It said it delivered a “strong” performance over the 20-week period with total group revenue up 8%, compared with the prior year.

It continued to see momentum across its global travel divisions, resulting in a strong 20-week performance, up 16% on 2023 on a constant currency basis.

In its UK travel division, total revenue was up 15% compared with the prior year for the 20-week period and up 14% on a LFL basis. It continued to see improving passenger numbers across UK Air, a strong performance in hospitals, and rail “performing well”.

In North American travel overall revenue for the 20-week period was up 14% compared with the prior year on a constant currency basis.

Its core MRG airport business (which is now approximately 50% of the revenue of our North American division) continues to perform strongly with good LFL growth. We are seeing passenger number growth and strong demand for our travel essentials categories. “The growth opportunities in North America are substantial and there is a good pipeline of tenders,” it said.

The rest of the world saw total revenue for the 20-week period up 24% on a constant currency basis, with good LFL growth across its regions and it is on track to open over 40 stores in the year.

Its UK high street division saw LFL revenue 3% lower compared with the prior year, in line with expectations.

However, in the four-week period to 30 December 2023, store LFL revenue was up 1% as it maintained good stock availability and exited Christmas with a clean stock position.

Overall, WH Smith said it has made a good start to the financial year and, while there is some economic uncertainty, it is confident of another year of “significant” growth in 2024.

CEO Carl Cowling commented: “I am pleased with the start to the financial year. Our Travel business is growing strongly across all our divisions and we have seen a notably strong performance in the UK, our largest division.

“We continue to make excellent progress in North America, and I am particularly excited by the substantial growth opportunities that exist in this market. We are on track to open over 50 new stores in North America this financial year.

“The group is trading well and is in its strongest ever position as a global travel retailer. We are confident of another year of significant growth in 2024.”

The group’s shares are flat this morning at 1,231p.

Morning update

UK consumer confidence has reached a two-year high, according to the monthly consumer confidence track from GfK.

The index increased three points to –19 in January, its highest level since January 2022, with all five measures up in comparison to last month’s announcement.

The index measuring changes in personal finances during the last year is up two points at –12, which is 19 points better than January 2023.

The forecast for personal finances over the next 12 months increased two points to the value of 0, which is now 27 points higher than this time last year.

The measure for the general economic situation of the country during the past 12 months is up three points at –41, a level that is 30 points higher than in January 2023.

Expectations for the general economic situation over the next 12 months have increased by four points to –21 – now some 33 points better than January 2023.

Joe Staton, client strategy director GfK, commented: “Consumer confidence has started the year well with all measures up and a headline score of -19, the best since January 2022. Importantly, the view on our personal financial situation for the coming year has gained two points and now stands at zero.

This is exciting as it ends 24 consecutive months of negative scores for this measure and this significant change is the best single indicator for how the nation’s households feel about their income and expenditure.

“Despite the cost of living crisis still impacting many households across the UK, consumers appear to be encouraged by the positive news about falling inflation. On balance, while there is national and global turmoil, the Consumer Confidence Index has started 2024 on a positive note – let’s see if this optimism continues.”

Elsewhere this morning, Hotel Chocolat has cancelled its shares on London’s AIM market after the successful completion of its £534m sale to Mars.

On the markets this morning, the FTSE 100 is up 0.9% to 7,600pts.

Risers include Diageo, up 3.5% to 2,804p, Fever-Tree, up 2.4% to 1,101.9p and Kerry Group, up 2% to €81.10.

Fallers include Sainsbury’s, down 1.2% to 278.1p, McBride, down 1.1% to 71.2p and Deliveroo, down 1% to 123.1p.

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 closed yesterday flat at 7,529.7pts.

Fever-Tree was a strong risers, jumping 6.3% to 1,076 despite annual profits coming in at the lower end of expectations as the City reacted to strong US growth and its North American operations overtaking its UK sales for the first time.

Other risers included Virgin Wines, up 4.7% to 39.8p, Britvic, up 3.5% to 885p, Kerry Group, up 2.5% to 79.5p, Deliveroo, up 2.2% to 124.3p, Marks & Spencer, up 1.8% to 260.4p, Science in Sport, up 1.7% to 14.75p and WH Smith, up 1.6% to 1,232p.

The day’s fallers include McBride, down 3.5% to 72p, Domino’s Pizza Group, down 2.8% to 346.2p, PayPoint, down 2.6% to 536p, Just Eat, down 2.4% to 1,209p, Ocado, down 1.4% to 568.2p and Nichols, down 1.4% to 1,060p.