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Sluggish start: Ad agency new business activity dropped off in January, as 43 accounts worth $1.1 billion changed hands during the month, down from 74 accounts worth $1.9 billion a year ago. The drop could be a result of tough comparisons to the year-ago period, when new business activity was spurred by pent-up demand after the post Sept. 11 slump, but war fears could also play a part in the slowdown. That could be bad news for agencies hoping for top-line growth to help a bottom-line recovery in the first quarter.

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GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: A tame reading on the consumer price index-the main gauge for inflation-and conciliatory comments by Iraq's vice president late in the week helped offset a trifecta of earlier bad news stemming from jumps in trade deficits, unemployment and wholesale prices. For the week, 36 AdMarket stocks were up and 13 were down. Cordiant Communications Group hit an all-time low of $1.95 at midweek but recovered and ended unchanged after management announced it will sell several units (see related story, this page).

Agency and media stocks made modest gains, led by Primedia and Omnicom Group. Both Omnicom and WPP Group gained in advance of earnings reports this week. But Havas continued to lag after it reported weakness in its year-end revenue report.

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