Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that recently appointed chief financial officer Ewen Stevenson and global banking and markets boss Samir Assaf have both chosen to top-up their stakes in the lending giant.
It remains to be seen whether bosses will be able to take advantage of growth opportunities across Asia, while also keeping costs down. Geopolitical tumult has made that a tougher task, with market weakness resulting in missed revenue targets last year and total operating income of $68.6bn (£51.6bn).
The group also reported negative adjusted “jaws” — the difference between the rates of change in revenue and costs — of 1.2 per cent. There may be domestic challenges too, with expected credit losses slightly higher than loan impairment charges in 2017, reflecting “the uncertain economic outlook in the UK and heightened downside risks”.
After the high street stationer announced store closures in 2018, WH Smith’s shares have since enjoyed a strong rally, rising from 1,764p when we tipped them in early January to their current level of 2,082p.
And it is fair to say the travel business has played a crucial role in propping up growth at the group, with sales there up by a fifth during the last financial year. So are recent share sales by the division’s finance director — as well as the group’s overall finance director — a red flag?
In our view, given the size of these disposals, it is unlikely to be a cause for concern. Graham Miller and his wife sold shares for a combined sum of a little over £200,000, while Robert Moorhead, who holds the dual role of finance director and chief operating officer, sold 25,000 shares. His wife also let go of 25,000 shares at the same price.
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