WHSmith's finance director, Keith Hamill, will have to be content with results that are much the same as last year's when the group reports later today. The company's 1997/98 turnover was £2.8bn, pre-tax profits were £142m and earnings were 35p per share. The pre-tax profit expected by the City this year is about £132m, though some analysts are predicting a higher figure. WHSmith is looking to push more own-brand books and its Internet business in the first few years of the millennium. The prediction accompanies the announcement of the 1998/99 results. During the past year, the group has added to its publishing portfolio with the purchase of Hodder Headline, Britain's third largest publisher, for £185m. WHSmith already has its own-brand books in education, cookery and travel and produces its own dictionaries. With the Hodder acquisition the group has entered the publishing world in its own right and is looking to double its own-brand business from the present 13% to 14% of its total book sales to a projected 25% in the next two years. Another injection of earnings is due from the WHSmith Internet presence. The group has an Internet service provider with 100,000 reported subscribers, a general portal that it claims offers more comprehensive content than average for reference and education, and sales areas for books, music and videos. Its Internet business has grown by 75% in the past year and more expansion is promised. Hamill, finance director since 1996, can be optimistic for growth in the coming year at least because the figures he is announcing today reflect factors that must have caused a little distortion. The Hodder purchase represented a £185m outlay and all the integration costs, but this was presumably balanced by new shop business. The group took over the John Menzies group in May last year and added 220 stores, many of them in Scotland, to its portfolio. Costs were incurred in integrating the Menzies group into the WHSmith operation, but in this accounting year the tills have no doubt been ringing profitably.
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