October 17, 2019 / 6:29 AM / 2 months ago

WH Smith to buy Marshall Retail for $400 million in U.S. airports push

(Reuters) - British retailer WH Smith Plc (SMWH.L) made its second major foray into U.S. airports on Thursday with a $400 million purchase of Marshall Retail Group, expanding in a fast-growing segment and sending its shares up 5%.

FILE PHOTO: A company logo is pictured outside a branch of WH Smith in Manchester northern England, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

Founded more than 200 years ago as a news vendor in London, WH Smith has been rapidly opening shops at major airports across the world to take advantage of an increase in passengers and boost profits soured by turmoil on British shopping streets.

The company, which now sells everything from books and sandwiches to Bluetooth headphones, has 433 shops at over 100 airports outside Britain and outgoing CEO Stephen Clarke told Reuters the retailer plans to open “hundreds and hundreds” more.

Carl Cowling, who takes over from Clarke in November, said the addition of Marshall will roughly double the size of WH Smith’s international travel business.

The company took its first step into the U.S. market last year when it bought digital accessories retailer InMotion.

Founded over 60 years ago in the gambling hub of Las Vegas, Marshall made a name for itself with souvenir shops in casinos and speciality retail outlets created for brands such as Lego and Harley Davidson.

But WH Smith is more interested in Marshall’s 59 airport stores - located in the United States and Vancouver - with 33 more expected to open by the end of 2024.

The company's stock rose 5% and was the biggest gainer on London mid-cap index .FTMC

“SERIOUS NAME”

Peel Hunt analyst Jonathan Pritchard said the deal “completely galvanises the travel side of WH Smith, making it a major player in the States and now one of the serious names in global travel retail.”

WH Smith said it would fund the all-cash deal for Marshall through a combination of 200 million pounds ($255.42 million) in new debt and a 155 million pound equity raise. The company will suspend its share buyback program while it pays off debt.

Profit from WH Smith’s travel business, which includes shops at airports, railway stations and hospitals, jumped 14% to 114 million pounds ($145.70 million) in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, highlighting how important high-spending travelers have become to the company.

Overall, headline profit before tax rose to 7% to 155 million pounds, marginally beating analyst estimates of 154.2 million pounds, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Profits from its high street business stagnated as the uncertainty around what terms Britain leaves the European Union, if does so at all, crimps British shopping sentiment.

WH Smith said it was prepared for Brexit and has put in place contingency plans, including increasing the stock of convenience products.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr, Uttaresh.V and Deepa Babington

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