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Turn Signals

The new-business front closed 2004 with signs of improvement. The major holding companies added nearly $2.6 billion in net new billings, thanks to new product introductions and increased marketing spending by clients. Account action continued to grow in December; 28 accounts changed agencies, up 8% from 26 a year ago, and they added up to $1.3 billion in billings, up 50% from $839 million the same month last year. WPP Group, which received approval from European regulators to complete its acquisition of Grey Global Group, unseated perennial new-business champ Omnicom Group in full-year numbers, but Omnicom continues to have a strong record in holding on to its accounts, with only $1.2 billion lost last year, while Interpublic Group of Cos. lost $3.5 billion.

Admarket 50

Rates rise, stocks too: The markets were quiet early in the week, waiting for an expected interest-rate hike. Later, merger talk and strong earnings buoyed investors, while weak employment numbers helped ease fears of more rate hikes. Forty AdMarket stocks were up for the week and 10 were down.

Market indices were helped along by strong earnings at Sprint Corp. and Altria Group and a spike by American Express Co. after it announced a spinoff of its Financial Advisors unit. Direct marketer Harte-Hanks surged after posting a 11.7% increase in 2004 net income, beating analysts estimates, and rival Catalina Marketing Corp. rose after it went from a year-ago loss to $19 million in net income for the latest quarter. Meanwhile, Digitas dropped after Chairman-CEO David Kenny sold 1.5 million shares.

Advertising Age and Bloomberg's AdMarket 50 index of 50 top publicly traded marketer, agency and media companies for the week ended Feb. 4, based on stock trading data supplied by Bloomberg financial news service. All comparisons are vs. closing prices Jan. 28.

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