WHSmith has reported total group sales and like-for-like sales down 4% over the Christmas period, but maintained it delivered a good profit performance.

For the 20 weeks to January 18, WHSmith said margin was well managed and costs tightly controlled across both its travel and high street businesses.

In travel, total sales were up 2% and like-for-like sales down 1%. It said this reflected a recent improvement in sales trends, particularly in air. It said it saw further improvement in gross margin and its store opening programme continues to progress well. WHSmith chief operating officer Robert Moorhead said it is too early to call as to whether this improving trend will continue.

In high street, total sales were down 7% and like-for-like sales were down 6%. WHSmith said high street performed in line with its expectations.

WHSmith said it maintains a strong balance sheet.

WHSmith group chief executive Stephen Clarke said: “During the period we have delivered another good profit performance across the group with costs tightly controlled and further improvement in gross margin. 

“Looking ahead, we continue to plan cautiously and manage the business tightly while investing in new opportunities for future growth. We are confident in making further progress in the year.”

Moorhead said Funky Pigeon and Kobo had a “strong Christmas”. He said Funky Pigeon sold 20% more products this year than last, and Kobo “significantly more”.

Moorhead said the standout performer in books was Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography while “some of the other titles perhaps did not grab the imagination”.

He added that WHSmith sees a disconnect between GDP and their view of consumer confidence. “We’re not seeing any uplifts in consumer confidence and we don’t expect to see any for the year.”

Moorhead said WHSmith will continue its existing strategy for the year with costs being tightly controlled, profit strong, and it is “not based on sales returning to growth”.

WHSmith reports like-for-likes down over Christmas but profit solid