Letter to share owners

Dear share owner

2011, our twenty-sixth year, was a record year in almost all respects. Revenue, profit before tax and earnings per share all reached new highs. Yet, as pleasing as these financial results are, perhaps your Company’s most satisfying achievement in 2011 was the first ever award of a Cannes Lion to a Holding Company, in recognition of your Company’s collective creative excellence. 2011 demonstrated once again that outstanding creativity and financial success go hand in hand. 

This record performance was achieved in difficult circumstances, particularly in the second half of the year, when the Eurozone crisis triggered uncertainty amongst consumers and corporates across the globe, resulting in a slowdown of economic activity in most geographic regions and functional sectors. 

Although your share price declined in 2011 by around 14% to 675.5p at the year end, it has since increased sharply, to 855.5p at the time of writing, up 27% from 1 January 2012. Total share owner return was enhanced by a 38% increase in dividends to 24.6p, a record level, and included a 45% increase in the second interim dividend to 17.14p, moving more rapidly towards the Company’s new dividend payment ratio target of 40%.

Billings were up almost 5% to £44.8 billion. Revenues were up over 7% to £10.0 billion, the first time the Group has exceeded £10 billion. Including 100% of associates, revenue is estimated to total over £12.1 billion. Our revenues exceeded all our competitors for the fourth consecutive year and by an increasing amount. Headline PBIT was up over 16% to £1.429 billion against £1.229 billion in 2010. Headline PBIT margin was 14.3% in 2011 against 13.2% last year, well ahead of target and equal to the pro-forma high pre-Lehman.

On gross margin, the headline PBIT margin was 15.5%, up 1.1 margin points on 2010. This is probably a more accurate basis for competitive comparisons. Reported profit before interest and tax rose over 22% to £1.258 billion from £1.028 billion. 

Headline EBITDA (which is a key metric that private equity firms, for example, use for valuing companies) increased by 14% to £1.640 billion. Headline profit before tax was up almost 19% to £1.229 billion and reported profit before tax was up over 18% to £1.008 billion, above £1 billion for the first time. Diluted headline earnings per share were up over 19% to 67.7p (an all-time high) and diluted reported earnings per share were up over 40% to 64.5p.

Free cash flow strengthened to £1.013 billion in the year, over £1 billion for the first time. Net debt averaged £2.8 billion in 2011, down £0.2 billion at 2011 exchange rates, and net debt at 31 December 2011 was £2.5 billion, £0.6 billion higher than 2010, reflecting stronger acquisition and share buy-back activity in the latter half of the year. Equity and debt analysts appear comfortable with the level of the Group’s average net debt, which was around 1.7 times headline EBITDA in 2011 compared with 2.1 times in 2010, and well within the Group’s current target range of 1.5-2.0 times. 

Headline interest cover in 2011 was 7.1 times. So far, in the first three months of 2012, average net debt was up approximately £0.4 billion at £2.6 billion against £2.2 billion for the same period in 2011, at 2012 exchange rates, starting to show an improvement on the 2011 year-end position. A positive sign of this improvement is the recent upgrade by Moody's of the Group's debt ratings. Our long-term debt is now rated Baa2 and BBB and our short-term debt P2 and A2, by Moody's and Standard & Poor's respectively.

With a current equity market capitalisation of approximately £10.8 billion, the total enterprise value of your Company is approximately £13.6 billion, a multiple of 8.3 times 2011 headline EBITDA. 

*This letter to share owners should be read in conjunction with and as part of the management report set out in the section headed Directors’ report.

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