WPP’s share travails are a pressing problem for CEO Read

Forthcoming meeting with investors may see changes announced

WPPis hosting what it calls an in-person Capital Markets Day in London for institutional investors and analysts on January 30 when, presumably, its full year 2023 results will be available.

Nobody should be expecting fourth quarter fireworks as its results have been poor so far for 2023 – blamed chiefly on tech clients cutting back – and the final quarter is unlikely to make much difference.

But CEO Mark Read (above) needs to find a way to get the aforementioned shareholders and analysts in buying mode as its recent share price performance is lamentable, bizarrely so in some respects. Even though a number of analysts have claimed the shares are undervalued by up to 50%.

WPP shares were down nearly two per cent today today valuing the company at £8.13bn, just a third of its (brief) £24bn valuation at the peak of Sir Martin Sorrell’s seeming success. By contrast the year’s best performer among the ad holding companies Publicis has seen its shares rise about 40% this year, valuing the French-owned group at £18bn.

Something is clearly up – but what exactly? While CEO Read is generally thought to have a done job stabilising things after Sorrell’s departure, the group still seems to be labouring under Sorrell’s legacy with Read recently hinting darkly that it hasn’t been integrated to the extent he’d like. Sorrell might reply that Read has had six years to do just that.

Usually in such circumstances, a big one-time market leader struggling with its shares at a discount, private equity and other bidders would be circling, hoping to snap up a bargain. But, so far, not even a rumour.

Yet WPP has tried as hard as any of the holding companies to equip itself for the digital age, boosting its commerce footprint with a number of (smallish) acquisitions and striking deals with the likes of Spotify and AI high flyer Nvidia. Nvidia, by the way, is currently valued at $1.2 trillion.

Read is going to have to pull a rabbit or two out of the hat on January 30 or he risks the market thinking WPP is going nowhere. His big move in 2023, merging Wunderman Thompson and VMLY%R into an expanded VML may (or not) be sensible housekeeping but it’s done nothing for the shares. It also makes disposing of creative agencies, as Interpublic has been doing, that bit more difficult.

WPP is looking for a new chairman to succeed Roberto Quarta and the first thing on his or her mind will be the flagging share price. Is Read the right person to help? Or might Read think that six years at the helm is enough? He now has a deserved CBE and wouldn’t be short of non-executive options if he decided to step aside.

Should be an interesting Capital Markets Day.


L’Oreal is reviewing its £100m plus UK media account with WPP’s EssenceMediaCom. WPP has handled the business since 2014. L’Oreal assigns its media on a national basis although that, too, be may be about to change.

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