Publicis Opts for Acquisition Strategy

24 October 2006

MONACO: World number four advertising holding company Publicis Groupe is on the prowl for acquisitions - not necessarily within the ad agency business, according to chairman/ceo Maurice Lévy.

"We are contemplating several possible strategies in terms of acquisitions," Lévy told the Wall Street Journal. "We will definitely move to an acquisition strategy provided it does service the interest of shareholders."

As to detail, however, he was unforthcoming, declining to identify possible targets or quantify the size of Publicis's warchest. But if nothing of interest should materialize, Lévy said, Publicis could use the cash to pay a dividend to shareholders or buy back shares.

When short on hard facts, business journalists can always rely on investment analysts - ever ready to offer a quote and a spot of guesswork in return for a plug. In this instance the WSJ turned to Edward Hill-Wood, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in London.

He opined that Publicis could/might/maybe/perhaps spend €1 billion ($1.25bn; £670.4m). On the other hand: "If the right thing comes along it [the amount] could be significantly higher. Our feeling is they will prioritize acquisitions over cash returns."

Meantime, word around the Avenue des Champs-Elysées is that Publicis continues to eye UK-based Aegis Group's Carat media-buying business, despite the rejection of its overtures last year by the Aegis board.

However, Lévy calls another move on Carat "theoretical", since a dominant 29.01% stake in the group is now held by arch-rival Vincent Bolloré, chairman of Havas. This would enable the latter to block any bid.

Another haruspex, the appropriately named Guru Baliga of Pinnacle Associates in New York, conferred the benefit of his opinion on WSJ readers: "Given the opportunities that seem to be present right now, [Publicis] management may serve shareholders well by investing in the business rather than returning cash."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff