CEO Still Has an Eye on Aegis

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NEW YORK ( -- Publicis Groupe’s interest in Aegis Group didn’t prove a distraction on the new-business front, as the French company raked in a record $9.8 billion last year with new assignments from Procter & Gamble/Gillette, Nestle and Samsung.
Publicis reported fourth-quarter revenue was $1.4 billion, and year-end revenue was $5.1 billion, up 7.7% from the prior-year period.

Organic growth up 8.6%
Fourth-quarter revenue for the period ended Dec. 31 was $1.4 billion, and year-end revenue for 2005 was $5.1 billion, up 7.7% from the prior-year period. Operating margins, said Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy, will be above last year’s 15.1%. Organic growth for the last quarter of 2005 was 8.6%; for the year, it was 6.8%. The company will report full-year results, including earnings, March 3.

Last September, Publicis began preliminary talks with Aegis about a possible takeover. By mid-October, Publicis decided not to make an offer, though it reserved the right to reconsider if a third party announced its intention to make an offer or Aegis’ board recommended it make an offer.

Around the same time, Publicis rival WPP Group, allied with private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, said it was interested in making an offer. But by late November, WPP, too, opted not to buy. Over the past few months, WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell has publicly reiterated his interest in parts of Aegis, such as market research unit Synovate.

Non-commital on Aegis
Asked in a conference call with analysts today if the company is interested in re-starting acquisition talks with Aegis, Mr. Levy was non-committal. “We are watching what is happening,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ll move on from the position of an observer. But I’m watching carefully.”

As for other acquisitions, he said management remains firm on its strategy to strengthen its direct marketing, interactive and marketing-services offerings, and to also expand in particular countries, including India, China, Brazil and Russia. Last year, Publicis bought marketing-services company Solution, based in India, and Eventive, an event-communications firm in Austria and Germany.

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