Shares crisis to halt takeovers

LONDON - Tumbling share prices of the world's biggest marcoms groups are set to put the brakes on acquisitions and could hit the morale of senior managers as stock options threaten to become valueless.

Levy... "few acquisitions"
Levy... "few acquisitions"

That was this week's stark warning from industry insiders as the Government prepared to pump billions of pounds into the banking sector to avoid a collapse.

The move follows stock market turmoil in which the marcoms groups, along with other major corporations, have had huge amounts wiped off their value.

WPP has seen its share price drop more than 46 per cent to 383p over the past year, while Havas' and Interpublic's shares have fallen by 59.9 per cent and 57.15 per cent, respectively.

With money so tight, observers believe that WPP's projected £1.2 billion take- over of Taylor Nelson Sofres will be the last for some time.

Maurice Lévy, the Publicis Groupe chairman, said: "We have a few acquisitions in the offing, particularly in the digital sector and emerging markets, but nothing major."

If the turmoil continues, agency bosses are worried that the problems of incentivising senior staff will increase.

David Kershaw, the chief executive at M&C Saatchi, whose share price hit its lowest level for a year this week, said agencies would need to look at alternative incentivisation schemes that took into account lower share prices.

Smaller quoted groups are not expected to follow the example of Creston, which is in buyout talks with an un-named private equity company. Cartesian Capital Group, one of its stakeholders, has also expressed an interest.