UK bookseller WH Smith sees online sales surge as coronavirus hits sales

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WH Smith on Thursday reported an 85 percent slump in group sales in April, slightly better than its earlier forecast as a 400 percent jump in online book sales helped offset some of the damage of mass coronavirus-led closures of its kiosks and stores.

The company, whose newspaper and stationery outlets are a common feature of UK high streets, hospitals and train stations, said it was planning on a phased store re-opening schedule across its international territories, UK travel channels and high street business.

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WH Smith has tapped the government’s coronavirus aid scheme, suspended dividend, furloughed employees, raised equity, secured120 million pounds ($146.41 million) in new lending facilities and waivers for banking covenant tests to survive through the crisis that has shut most of its stores.

The company said 203 of its stores with post offices and 130 stores in hospitals are currently open.

“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,” Chief Executive Officer Carl Cowling said.

Shares in the company dropped as much as 3.8 percent to 882 pence in early trade.


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“With £400m of available liquidity and a monthly cash burn of £25 million-£30 million before furlough savings, we believe WH Smith has the capacity to withstand an extended period of close to zero income, well into 2021,” JP Morgan analysts said.

Headline pretax profit fell 1 percent to 80 million pounds for the six months ended February 29, in line with the company's forecast.

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