BARCELONA Feb 27 Fierce competition in the
global advertising industry forced Britain's WPP to
lower its profit guidance for 2014 on Thursday, wiping more than
a billion pounds off its share price and overshadowing its
improving trading throughout 2013.
The world's largest advertising group said it had
outperformed the rest of the industry in winning new business
but the combination of clients demanding more for less, and
currency fluctuations had hit its operating margins on a
The company's operating margin for 2013 rose 0.3 margin
points to 15.1 percent, below its annual growth target of 0.5
points, while it lowered its outlook for 2014 target to 0.3
margin points growth.
The forecast for this year also excludes the impact of
currency swings, which could still take a heavy toll on a group
that, led by Martin Sorrell, expanded early in emerging markets
which have proved highly volatile of late.
In the final quarter of 2013, when approximately 40 percent
of WPP's profits were earned, sterling strengthened against many
currencies by 10 to 20 percent in key faster growth markets such
as India, South Africa and Brazil.
"All in all, 2014 looks to be another demanding year, as a
strong UK pound and weak fast-growth market currencies continue
to take their toll on our reported operating margins," said
Sorrell, who has built WPP into one of Britain's biggest
companies during his 28 years at the top.
"We have the same (long-term margin) target, it will just
take us longer to get there. The reason is pressure from clients
in terms of they want more for less, and a lot of competition
and competitive discounting in media pricing."
The disappointing profit outlook overshadowed the group's
overall trading in terms of the main industry metric - like for
like revenue growth - which rose 3.5 percent in 2013, in line
with forecasts. It was up 5.7 percent in January.
WPP had traded well in the second half of the year, winning
new work and taking advantage of the $35 billion merger of its
two biggest rivals, Omnicom and Publicis,
which will make them the largest ad group in the world once the
The British firm recorded a 57 percent jump in net new
business billings, reflecting how it has poached blue-chip firms
from the soon-to-be American-Franco supergroup, which faces
conflicts of interest amongst its combined client base.
Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said the lowering of the
margin target would give WPP more scope to respond to the
increasing pressures in the industry.
"We think WPP has done the right thing in admitting this and
reducing its guidance in one go, but it does introduce the
question of structural risk into the agencies' story," he said.
WPP was the last major ad group to report its results.
Publicis, led by Sorrell's sparring partner Maurice Levy,
reported a slowdown in trading in the fourth quarter, while
Omnicom ended the year well.
WPP shares, which had risen over the last month, fell 6
percent, wiping just over a billion pounds off its shares and
cutting market capitalisation to 16.8 billion pounds, as
analysts said the revised guidance would hit expectations for
2014 earnings per share.
Shares in Publicis were down 1.4 percent.
"Something of a mixed bag at first take," Jefferies analysts
said. "All in all, a creditworthy print, though perhaps not
enough to keep the bulls happy. We see value here but the stock
may give something up in the short term."