WPP shares plunge as ad group falls behind in post-Sorrell era

WPP lost a fifth of its market value on Thursday after problems at its New York and London creative agencies forced it to cut sales and profit forecasts, showing the scale of the task facing its new boss after the acrimonious exit of founder Martin Sorrell.

Mark Read, a softly-spoken veteran of the world’s biggest advertising group, said turning around WPP would take time as he sells assets, halts acquisitions and brings in new talent at its storied agencies such as JWT, Ogilvy and Y&R.

The third-quarter results wiped 2.8 billion pounds ($3.6 billion) off WPP’s market value, and were all the more startling as they came after solid updates from peers Omnicom, IPG and Publicis, showing the problems are specific to the British group.

The results showed the high-margin and previously strong media units that buy ad space and plan campaigns are struggling.

“We need to have stronger creative agencies,” Read told Reuters. “We do have good people, we need more of them. This isn’t going to happen overnight. We need to be realistic about the speed at which the business is going to turn around.”

Sorrell, the world’s most famous advertising boss, built WPP from a two-man office in central London into the world’s most powerful advertising company offering creative work, media buying, public relations, consultancy and data analytics.

The group outperformed for years, helped by Sorrell’s ability to buy companies and win pitches, but growth disappeared at the start of 2017 due to competition from consultancies and tech groups Facebook and Google, which enable clients to cut out the middle men and place ads directly.

Clients have also complained that WPP, in 112 countries, is too unwieldy, forcing them to deal with multiple agencies within the group to get one service. Some clients are also taking marketing work in-house to save costs.

Analysts said it was impossible to say if Sorrell’s departure had had an effect on recent contract losses, but they noted the pressures had been building before he left in April over an allegation of personal misconduct, which he denied.

“The challenges we’ve seen in the third quarter reinforce our determination to take more radical action and to move more decisively,” Read said. He will set out a new strategy in December.

RADICAL ACTION

It will for now start by selling a stake in its underperforming data analytics group Kantar, valued as a whole at around 3.5 billion pounds by analysts.

That will help to lift overall growth and add to the 16 non-core assets it has already sold, raising 704 million pounds. The efforts will help to lower its almost 5 billion pounds of debt.

Sales were particularly weak in the United States and Britain, and a very poor September forced WPP to lower its full-year guidance, saying net sales could fall as much as 1 percent versus a target of 0.3 percent growth just three months ago.

The operating margin is likely to fall by 1-1.5 percentage points, compared with a previous prediction of down 0.4.

WPP shares were down 17 percent at 1100 GMT, taking them down 35 percent in the year to date and giving the group a market value of 11.1 billion pounds.

Analysts say the stock is now inexpensive compared with peers, trading at 9 times 2019 forecast earnings compared with IPG on 13.6, but it has little momentum after a string of account losses from groups such as Ford.

“WPP has delivered a proper profit warning,” analysts at Citi said. “Third quarter organic growth is materially below expectations and having raised guidance at the beginning of September the group has cut it hard today.”

WPP also said Finance Director Paul Richardson would step down after 22 years in the role. ($1 = 0.7748 pounds)

Source: Reuters

High-speed data boom drives Comcast profit beat

Comcast Corp’s quarterly profit and revenue topped Wall Street estimates on Thursday as strength in its high-speed internet business offset a less severe drop in cable TV subscribers.

The largest U.S. cable company’s third-quarter results demonstrated a resilience to industry forces that have buffeted its rivals.

As U.S. subscribers have continued to dump pricier pay-TV services in favor of cheaper streaming services, Comcast has managed to slow down defections, at least for a quarter, while growing its broadband services, on which all other products, including Netflix Inc and Amazon.com video, depend. High-speed internet is now the centerpiece of a strategy to survive a rapidly changing media landscape.

It also has remained the standalone among the big league players to resist the temptation to restructure to court consumers directly with streaming video products, as AT&T Inc and Walt Disney Co have done.

“We’re looking at different ways to accelerate our business in terms of streaming,” said Steve Burke, Chief Executive of NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast, on a conference call with analysts on Thursday. Burke added that it would not be a substitute for its existing pay TV business.

Shares rose 4.5 percent to $35.66.

BLUE SKIES

To diversify, Comcast beat Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox in an auction to buy European satellite TV broadcaster Sky for $40 billion in September.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts defended what was widely considered a high bid for Sky and said the company “was misunderstood and mispriced,” citing the difference in the European pay-TV markets compared to mature U.S. markets.

In a morning conference call, Sky Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch discussed investments in key categories such as original content and defend its leadership position in sports and movies.

Darroch also said Sky could easily capture 10 percent more of the remaining 78 million households that do not yet subscribe to a Sky product across its European territories, which would add 8 million customers. “It’s more than achievable,” he said.

He also vowed to “stick around,” which will help assuage investors concerned he would flee after the merger.

STRONG RESULTS

The results showed revenue from high-speed internet rose 9.6 percent to $4.32 billion in the quarter as the company added 363,000 internet subscribers, beating an average estimate of 294,000, according to research firm FactSet.

Comcast said it was the best performance for the division in ten years.

Net income attributable to Comcast rose 9.2 percent to $2.89 billion, or 62 cents per share, from $2.64 billion, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 65 cents. Analysts were expecting 61 cents per share, according to Refinitiv.

Philadelphia-based Comcast’s revenue rose 5 percent to $22.14 billion, above the average estimate of $21.82 billion.

Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile, which operates off of Verizon Communication Inc’s network, added 228,000 net phone lines during the quarter, hitting 1 million total lines. CEO Roberts said that offering mobile with broadband has improved retention of broadband customers who buy both.

NBCUniversal revenue rose 8.1 percent to $8.63 billion.

Revenue from theme parks fell due to weather-related disruptions and natural disasters in Japan.

Source: Reuters

Tech industry under greater privacy scrutiny

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook on Wednesday said customer data was being “weaponised with military efficiency” by companies to increase profit and called for a federal privacy law in the United States.

But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s ad-based business model said users were aware of a trade-off for free services.

Cook, speaking at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, said Apple would support a U.S. privacy law and also touted the iPhone maker’s commitment to protect users’ data and privacy.

Apple, which designs many of its products so that it cannot see users’ data, has largely avoided the data privacy scandals that have enmeshed its rivals Google and Facebook this year.

“The desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new,” Cook told a packed audience of privacy regulators, corporate executives and other participants.

Issues over how data is used and how consumers can protect their personal information are under the spotlight after big breaches of data privacy involving millions of internet and social media users in Europe and the United States.

Cook in his speech cited former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who in a Harvard Law Review article in 1890 warned that gossip was no longer the resource of the idle and the vicious but had become a trade.

“Today that trade has exploded into a data industrial complex. Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponised against us with military efficiency,” Cook said.

“These scraps of data … each one harmless enough on its own … are carefully assembled, synthesised, traded, and sold,” Cook said.

“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them,” he said.

FACEBOOK’S AD-BASED MODEL

Zuckerberg, speaking via video message, said Facebook users were aware of the trade-off between a free service and advertisements.

“Instead of charging people, we charge advertisers to show ads. People consistently tell us that they want a free service and that if they going to see ads to get it, then they want those ads to be relevant,” he said.

Facebook was investing heavily in both security and privacy even as this impacts on its profitability, Zuckerberg said.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai welcomed the global focus on privacy, saying that the company was doing its part by taking measures to allow users more control over their data.

“User trust is the foundation for everything we do, and privacy and security are fundamental tenets of that,” he said by video message. “We’ve been working for years to provide more transparency and control for our users, and we appreciate the input and partnership from data protection authorities.”

Cook also warned about governments abusing users’ data and their trust, a concern for many with elections coming up in several countries.

“Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.”

Cook said Apple fully backed a federal privacy law in the United States, something Europe has already introduced via its General Data Protection Regulation.

“Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for,” he said. “This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham.”

Source: Reuters

Facebook launches searchable database for U.S. political ad spending

Facebook Inc on Tuesday unveiled a searchable database that will provide information on spending by advertisers for political ads and issues of national importance in the run-up to the midterm elections.

The move comes as social media platforms face the threat of U.S. regulation over the lack of disclosure on such spending. Facebook also has faced a barrage of criticism from users and lawmakers after it said last year that Russian agents used its platform to spread misinformation before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, an accusation Moscow denies.

The database called “Ad Archive Report” will be updated weekly with details on who spent how much for political ads. For example, a page supporting Texas Democratic U.S. Senate contender Beto O’Rourke, reveals spending of $5.4 million from May-Oct. 20.

The page name is “Beto for Texas”. The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a fundraising organization for President Donald Trump, was second during the period with spending of $3.1 million. The report, which houses political ads for up to seven years, will be available to anyone regardless of whether they are a Facebook user or not, the company said Alphabet Inc’s Google launched a similar feature in August.

Source: Reuters

Netflix plans to raise $2 bln to fund new content

Netflix Inc said on Monday it plans to raise about $2 billion in debt to fund original shows, acquire content and for possible acquisitions.

The streaming giant said the debt will be in the form of senior notes denominated in U.S. dollars and euros.

Netflix, which plans to spend more than $8 billion in entertainment programming this year, reported blockbuster third-quarter results last week as heavy investment in original shows lured more customers to its fold.

Source: Reuters

Sony makes no concessions to EU regulators in EMI music bid

Sony Corp has not offered concessions to European Union antitrust regulators reviewing its $2.3 billion offer for control of EMI to become the world’s largest music publisher, the European Commission website showed on Monday.

EU antitrust regulators earlier this month asked rivals and users whether they think the Japanese group would use its greater market power to win better terms in digital media deals.

The deadline for proposed concessions in the European Commission’s preliminary assessment of the deal was Oct. 19. The EU executive’s website showed that Sony had not submitted any.

This could either mean Sony expects unconditional approval or for the Commission to open a full-scale investigation on Oct. 26 at the end of its review.

Sony, which owns a 30 percent stake in EMI, wants to buy Mubadala Investment Co’s 60 percent stake. In July, it acquired the estate of Michael Jackson’s minority share of EMI.

Sony’s new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida is making his boldest strategy move with the deal, which would give the company rights to 2.1 million songs from artists such as Drake, Sam Smith, Pharrell Williams and Sia.

Independent music labels group Impala and the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance have called for the EMI deal to be either blocked or cleared only with major concessions.

Source: Reuters

Bloomberg Media, AP partner for EMEA and Asia sales

Associated Press (AP) and Bloomberg LP announced a sales partnership in EMEA and Asia on Tuesday to expand their media client base in the regions.

The media clients of the organizations will now have access to Bloomberg’s global business and finance news and AP’s news services in the two regions, the companies said in a joint statement

AP and Bloomberg compete with Reuters, the news division of Thomson Reuters Corp, in supplying news to media outlets.

Source: Reuters

Thomson Reuters closes deal with Blackstone

Thomson Reuters Corp said on Monday it had completed the sale of a majority stake in its Financial & Risk (F&R) unit to private equity firm Blackstone Group LP.

The news and information provider agreed in January to sell a 55-percent stake in the business, which provides data and news primarily to financial customers, in a deal which values the total F&R business at about $20 billion.

The transaction is Blackstone’s biggest bet since the 2008 financial crisis and pits co-founder Stephen Schwarzman against fellow billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s eponymous terminals are the market leader in providing traders, bankers and investors with news, data and analytics.

It also gives Thomson Reuters, controlled by Canada’s Thomson family, an ally as it seeks to reinvigorate a business facing challenges from a shrinking and budget-conscious customer base. Thomson Reuters retains a 45-percent stake in the F&R business, which has been renamed Refinitiv, a name derived from the 160-year-old Reuters brand with the objective of enabling “definitive action in financial markets.”

The business will be led by David Craig, previously head of the F&R unit, who became CEO of Refinitiv following completion of the deal. Thomson Reuters said it received about $17 billion in gross proceeds at the closing, out of which it plans to return $10 billion to shareholders.

As part of that process, the company launched a $9 billion share buyback in August. The tender offer is scheduled to close on Tuesday. From the remainder of the proceeds, the company said it would redeem $4 billion of debt, keep $2 billion of cash on its balance sheet to fund acquisitions, and use $1 billion to cover expenses related to the transaction.

Following the deal, Thomson Reuters had said it expects its legal business to account for 43 percent of its revenue. Reuters News will remain a unit of Thomson Reuters Corp. Under the terms of the deal, Refinitiv will make minimum annual payments of $325 million to Reuters over 30 years to secure access to its news service, equating to almost $10 billion.

Source: Reuters