Full year results bring mixed news for global holding companies
06 March 2018
Market Intelligence

Full year results bring mixed news for global holding companies

WPP, the world’s largest marketing group, suffered its worst year since the 2009 recession in growth terms, with like for like revenue (which factors in currency and acquisitions) down 0.3%, on total revenue of £15.3bn. Following the announcement, shares in the company had their biggest drop in 20 years, falling 13%.
Looking at individual business sectors, Advertising and Media Investment Management performed the best in revenue growth and constant currency terms. However, like for like revenue was down 0.1% over the year. Within this, the traditional creative business has underperformed, while the media business has seen significant pickup. Growth was weak generally across all geographic markets with North America the worst performing, down 2.3% like for like over the year. The UK continues to be the one of the few bright spots for the company with 4.8% like for like growth, and an impressive 8.4% growth in the final quarter.

WPP blamed its poor performance in 2017 on both cyclical and structural factors. Throughout the year many large multinational clients cut their marketing costs amid pressure from activist investors. Furthermore, consultancies such as Accenture have emerged as serious competitors to the ad-agencies. Longer term, tech disruption continues in the industry, with more advertising spend going online to Google and Facebook.

New York-based Omnicom Group was the strongest performing holding company in 2017, with organic growth of 3.0% on revenue of $15.3bn. Despite this, Omnicom missed analyst expectations for Q4, and their share price fell 5.8% following the announcement, and has continued to fall, currently trading close to 10% lower than prior to the announcement.

Regionally, organic revenue growth was very strong in the UK (5.1%), Europe (9.4%), Latin America (16.8%), and the Middle East and Africa (12.8%). However, North America, which accounts for 57% of Omnicom’s revenues only saw organic growth of 0.6% for the year, and hence held the business back. This was significantly below analyst forecasts, and was due to a reduction in client spending, and lower political spend in PR related to the 2016 elections. All five of Omnicom’s disciplines saw positive organic growth, with CRM Execution & Support (4.0%), and Advertising (3.9%) being the best performing by far. PR, the worst performing sector, rose by 0.3%.

Publicis had a more positive 2017 following a couple of weak years for the French group. While organic growth over the year was only 0.8%, the firm showed strong momentum over the year with sequential improvements in organic growth from Q1(-1.2%) to Q4 (2.2%). Performance in the final quarter was in line with expectations, and was seen as very reassuring to the market, where its share price increased by over 5% following the announcement.

North America was a particularly encouraging region for Publicis. Although organic growth was only 0.5% over the year, there was great acceleration of growth in the region, with 3.7% in H2 vs -2.4% in H1. This reflected good momentum from a number of client wins over 2016 and 2017 including Hewlett Packard, McDonald’s and Carrefour. Latin America (4.8%) and Middle East Africa regions (4.8%) were also very strong over the year. European performance (1.3%) was weaker, with a disappointing -1.6% growth rate in H2. Within Europe though Italy (4.0%) and the UK (5.5%) stood out while growth in Germany was particularly poor, falling 6.9%.

Interpublic Group’s Q4 earnings were met with the greatest amount of enthusiasm from the market. While full year organic revenue was only modestly up 1.8% over the previous year, there was very strong momentum coming from Q4 organic growth of 3.3% over the prior-year period. These results delivered on IPG’s updated targets, and performed well above analyst expectations. Following the announcement, the company’s share price increased by more than 10%. Mediabrands, McCann Worldgroup, and FCB were cited by the company as driving overall growth.

Looking at individual regions, IPG performed particularly well relative to the other agencies in organic growth terms in the US (2.0% over the year and 3.47% in Q4) and Continental Europe (3.4%). As with the other networks, UK growth was solid at 4.1% over the year. Asia Pacific was the worst performing region with a negative organic growth of 2.5%.

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