Publicis revenues fall on CPG ad decline

Advertising holding company stocks fell Thursday morning after a surprisingly poor fourth quarter report from Publicis on Wednesday.

The French holding company saw organic revenue fall 0.3% from the same quarter last year, though analysts had been projecting growth of 2.5% in the quarter. Publicis said that cuts in traditional ad spend were deeper than expected, particularly by U.S.-based consumer packaged goods companies.

Despite the drop in revenue, Publicis kept costs down and reported that its operating margin rose to 16.7%, from 15.5% in 2017.

“We clearly have a revenue attrition on traditional advertising from fast-moving consumer goods in the United States,” said chief executive officer Arthur Sadoun according to a report in Bloomberg.

CPG clients account for about 25% of company revenue, said Sadoun.

“The scale of the miss in the fourth quarter took us by surprise, with attrition among existing accounts negating new business gains,” Deutsche Bank said in a note to clients, reported by Reuters. “What’s more, it appears that the trend is due to continue into the first quarter of 2019.”

Publicis also expects a “bumpy ride” in the first quarter, as cuts in ad spend reverberate throughout the organization. However, it expects a second quarter uptick,  thanks in part to new business wins including GlaxoSmithKline and Fiat Chrysler. Publicis is also still predicting organic growth of 4% by next year.

“We think the weak operating environment and further evidence of the challenges of turning around agency conglomerates will weigh on Publicis and its peer, WPP,” said Deutsche Bank’s analysts.

Interpublic reports its numbers next week, and WPP is scheduled for March 1. Omnicom hasn’t provided a date for its next report.

David Brown