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New business activity dropped off in January, with 31 accounts worth $700 million changing hands during the month, down from 52 accounts worth $850 million a year ago. The drop could be a result of war fears among advertisers, who postponed decisions during the buildup to the Iraq war. That bodes well for the coming months, but new business remains a zero-sum game. In the first quarter of 2003, only $284 million of billings awarded to the major holding companies was "new" new business.

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SARS, GDP bust rally: Fears about the effect of the SARS outbreak on business and a disappointing first-quarter gross domestic product figure took the steam out of a strong April rally. A series of first-quarter earnings reports that beat analysts' expectations helped stocks go higher early in the week, but the announcement that first-quarter GDP grew only 1.6%-vs. a consensus estimate of 2.3%-brought back concerns about the weak economy. For the week, 36 AdMarket stocks were up and 14 were down.

Bargain hunters picked up beaten-down stocks, including a raft of agency holding companies. AOL Time Warner climbed after it reported a positive quarter (See The Week, P. 16). Primedia's sale of Seventeen did little to help the troubled company with investors, and Clear Channel lost ground after Viacom's earnings-strong on TV and weak on radio-cast doubts about the radio sector.

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