WHSmith has posted a 5 per cent fall in first-half profits but said it is confident about the full-year outlook.

The retailer, which trades from about 560 high street stores and around 450 travel and hospital and motorway service outlets in the UK, reported pre-tax profits of £61m in the six months to February 28.

Profit from trading operations in travel stores increased 18 per cent to £20m and from its high street division rose £47m.

Group sales were flat at £731m, with like-for-like sales down 5 per cent. High street like-for-likes dropped 6 per cent and travel fell 1 per cent.

However, total gross profit margins improved 170 basis points, offsetting the sales drop.

Gross margins improved 80 basis points in the travel business and around 190 basis points in the high street division.

WHSmith chief executive Kate Swann said: “Our markets remain challenging. However, we have planned accordingly and are confident in the outcome for the full year.”

The retailer has improved its mix of products to focus on core categories stationery, books, newspapers and magazines, shifting away from entertainment products.

During the first half, like-for-like sales of books were down 3 per cent, with sales of stationery flat and news and impulse down 3 per cent. Entertainment like-for-like sales slumped 33 per cent as the retailer reduced its presence in the category.