* Should at least maintain market share in difficult 2009
* Has not discussed Havas merger with shareholder Bollore
* To cut 5 percent of workforce
(Adds details, analyst comment, updates shares)
By Georgina Prodhan
LONDON, March 19 Aegis AEGS.L expects to
defend its share of a more difficult market in 2009 and has not
held talks on a possible merger with France's Havas EURC.PA,
the British marketing group's interim chief executive said.
John Napier said he had positioned the company for a tough
environment with a cost-savings programme that includes cutting
5 percent of the workforce, and was pleased with a first quarter
in which Aegis will have won over $1 billion of new media
In 2008, organic sales grew 4.6 percent to 1.34 billion
pounds ($1.91 billion), above the 1.29 billion pound average
forecast of 17 analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.
The reported figures were helped by a weak British pound,
strong growth in digital offerings, and emerging markets.
Operating profit rose 10.7 percent on a constant currency
basis to 185 million pounds and the company said on Thursday it
would raise its full-year dividend 8.7 percent to 2.5 pence.
"In these environments, you have to make sure that you're
prepared and fleet of foot," Napier told reporters.
"I believe we have all the levers necessary to respond well
to difficult market circumstances. Where the market goes, you
tell me. We always expect to at least maintain our market
Larger British agency WPP (WPP.L), the world's
second-largest advertising group, reported 2008 like-for-like
revenue growth of 2.7 percent earlier this month and forecast
2009 sales would fall 2 percent.
Aegis shares rose 1.6 percent to 76.5 pence by 0952 GMT,
outperforming a European media index .SXMP that fell 0.3
"Stock trading on 9.3 times price/earnings fundamentally
looks attractive, but on a 15-20 percent premium to WPP, we
believe at least some hopes of corporate (M&A) activity are
already factored in," UBS analyst Alastair Reid wrote in a note.
Asked whether he had discussed a merger with Havas with
French financier Vincent Bollore, a major shareholder in both
Aegis and Havas, Napier said: "As far as these Havas rumours are
concerned... they haven't actually come up in discussion between
Mr Bollore and myself."
He said Bollore would not put forward any candidates for two
non-executive board positions that need to be filled.
Bollore said this month he was "still thinking" about the
fate of Aegis and Havas and said Aegis's new management should
allow the company to develop efficiently. He has described the
relationship between the two companies as a "long love affair".
On the possibility of divesting market-research arm
Synovate, which he said had few synergies with the rest of the
company, Napier would only say he had been busy getting the
company in shape since taking over at the end of November.
Media-buying arm Aegis Media reported organic revenue growth
of 6.1 percent, despite a decline at its Carat U.S. unit, while
operating profit grew 3 percent.
Synovate increased revenues by 5.1 percent organically, and
reported 13.1 percent constant-currency operating-profit growth.
Napier said Aegis should announce a new CEO by end-2009, and
said he had no interest in the job himself on a permanent basis.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Erica Billingham,
Dan Lalor, John Stonestreet)
($1 = 0.7020 pound)