City Republic: WPP worries about TNS bid as recession looms

Stephen Foster examines the global market jitters as WPP worries about its TNS bid, Toyota is hit by its move into SUVs, and ad revenues tail off at Trinity Mirror.

Ghost of 2001 haunts Sorrell
WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell spent Sunday evening closeted with advisers Goldman Sachs as he weighs making a formal offer for research firm TNS.

TNS is trying to effect an all-share merger with German research giant GfK and has so far rebuffed Sorrell's efforts to buy it instead.

But WPP hasn't made a formal offer yet and has until July 4 to do so.

Back in 2001, WPP made a formal offer of £434m for Chris Ingram's Tempus media buying group only to try to withdraw the offer, citing an "adverse material change" in Tempus prospects because of the worldwide slowdown following the attack on New York on September 11.

The UK takeover panel wasn't having any of it and told Sorrell to shell out. In the end, as he acquired Tempus's MediaEdge network in Europe for a snip at today's prices, it ended satisfactorily enough.

But it wasn't WPP's finest hour and Sorrell may be fearful of something similar happening with TNS.

Not another terrorist attack (one hopes) but a rapid slowdown in marketing and media revenues as much of the world hovers on the brink of recession.

TNS shares closed at 228.75p on Friday, valuing the company at £953m. WPP shares traded at 483.75p, valuing its last cash and shares offer at just 222.7p, which means that any new bid will need to come in north of £1bn.

This is a lot of money in today's markets. Whether or not WPP goes ahead depends on how confident Sorrell and his advisers feel about prospects this year and next and, crucially, what happens to the WPP share price.

If this falls over the next few days the part-share offer (assuming it comes) will cost a lot more and may need to include more of that in-demand commodity, cash.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at last night's discussions.

Now Toyota joins the US car wrecks
US carmakers report their June sales Tuesday and they're certain to make horrible reading.

Even the mighty Toyota, which has been threatening to overtake General Motors as the world's biggest car company for a year now, is expected to report an 11.7% drop in US sales over last year, chiefly because it, too, has fallen for the American folly of rushing into the pick-up truck and SUV markets.

There are so many of these thing piling up in US car lots that they'll be taking to them to the Nevada desert soon, where they usually pile up unwanted aeroplanes.

It's not necessarily that Americans don't want to buy cars, it's that there aren't enough small, fuel-efficient models on the market.

Chrysler, which had to be bailed out last week with $2bn from owners Cerberus and Mercedes, is expected to see a sales fall in June of over 30%, GM and Ford are expected to decline by 25%.

Chrysler, by any normal considerations, looks doomed. GM and Ford will probably survive somehow.

Business school students will be reading case histories entitled "the US car industry -- the world's biggest marketing cock-up" for decades.

Trinity Mirror hangs on to its cash
Daily Mirror publisher Trinity Mirror has announced that full-year profits will be 10% lower than expected, blaming "a marked deterioration" in ad revenue across its national and 150 regional titles.

It has also cancelled £67m of a proposed £150m share buyback, in effect a mini rights issue.

Companies buy back their shares to force up the price (fewer shares in issue should boost the price) but TM has obviously decided it needs the cash more.

The shares are bound to fall anyway on a profits warning (these things tend to come along one after the other, like London buses).

So why isn't TM hanging on to all of the £150m?

Will Iraq be the oil saviour?
This is a fine one for conspiracy theorists who say that the reason the US and UK invaded Iraq was to get their hands on all that oil (Iraq has reserves of 115 billion barrels, the third largest in the world).

The Iraq government is expected to announce today a series of deals with the US, UK and French oil majors to upgrade its oil industry and increase output by half a million barrels a day.

Quite how soon this can happen is anyone's guess, of course, but an extra half a million from Iraq on top of Saudi Arabia's promised 200,000 extra barrels would go a long way towards boosting world output to more than generous levels.

If this doesn't bring the oil price down from its current $142 a barrel then nothing will, and the argument that it's speculators who are driving the price up will be even harder to counter.

UK chancellor Alistair Darling will be hoping it does, and not just because it will turn down the inflation heat.

US legislators are hot on the heels of American oil speculators and, increasingly, they're blaming the largely unregulated UK oil futures market for providing the means for hedge funds to profit from everyone else's losses.

A bit more disclosure in this market (ie who's actually betting on the ever-rising price of oil) wouldn't come amiss.

Stephen Foster is a former news editor of Campaign, former editor of Marketing Week and Evening Standard ad columnist. He is a partner in Editorial Partnership and writes the blog and Politics of the Media for Brand Republic.

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