WPP Dodges Another Results Shock After Year of Client Losses

(Bloomberg) -- Advertising group WPP Plc offered investors some relief after a year of account losses, reporting results that slightly beat expectations and indicating the worst may be over by the second half of 2019. The shares rose as much as 9 percent.

Expectations were already low since rival Publicis Groupe SA posted a surprise drop in sales last month, blaming ad spending cuts by consumer goods makers in North America, WPP’s biggest market.

WPP has been losing business in the region and struggling to adapt to a shift toward digital marketing. Its shares have fallen by about a third over the past 12 months and Chief Executive Officer Mark Read, who permanently replaced company founder Martin Sorrell in September, has begun to merge creative and digital agencies to stem the loss of business.

“The initial signs are positive in the market and from clients to the changes we’ve made,’’ Read said in a phone interview. “We’ve got work to do, but broadly speaking we’re on track.’’

‘Long Tunnel’

WPP expects a decline in revenue less pass-through costs this year of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, with “stronger headwinds in the first half.” Analysts were already penciling in a 1.9 percent drop, according to a company-compiled consensus. The company also beat expectations for fourth-quarter revenue.

The results were “better than feared but 2019 shows that if there is light at the end of the tunnel, to get to organic targets in line with peers, then it’s a very long tunnel,” said Neil Campling, an analyst at Mirabaud Securities.

Clients are opting for more digital marketing instead of traditional ads like TV commercials and billboards, where WPP has been historically strong. WPP also faces growing competitive pressure from Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. working directly with brands.

WPP’s share drop has allowed U.S.-based rival Omnicom Group Inc. to supplant it as the world’s largest ad group by market capitalization. The stock surged as much as 8.8 percent, the most intraday in 10 months, and was up 5.6 percent as of 8:22 a.m. in London.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.