Margins rise to equal historic highs

Headline PBIT margins were up 1.1 margin points to 14.3% compared to 13.2% in 2010, equal to the pro-forma high pre-Lehman and well ahead of the Group’s original budget target of 0.5 margin points and revised target of at least 0.7 margin points. On a like-for-like basis headline PBIT margins were also up 1.1 margin points. Headline gross margin margins (or headline PBIT as a percentage of gross margin) were up 1.1 margin points to 15.5%, close to the highest reported levels in the industry.

During 2011, the Group continued to reap the benefits of containing operating costs, with improvements across most cost categories, particularly direct, property, commercial and office costs. 

On a like-for-like basis the average number of people in the Group increased by 4.6% in 2011. On the same basis, the number of people in the Group at 31 December 2011 was 4.3% higher than at the end of 2010. Also on a like-for-like basis, revenues increased by 5.3% and gross margin 5.9%. This is yet another demonstration of the fact that growth creates jobs. In the UK alone, more than 900 people were added on a like-for-like basis – up 9% as revenues and gross margins grew on the same basis by 6.7% and 8.6% respectively. The Group’s employer social taxes in the UK rose 11.6% like-for-like.

Net people additions (excluding associates)

Year to 31 December
China 1,008 498
UK 907 538
India 456 490
Brazil 310 315
US 233 1,876
Germany 193 (98)
Indonesia 148 116
Singapore 135 167
Thailand 123 52
Mexico 119 140
Other countries 1,100 393
Total 4,732 4,487

Group payroll taxes (excluding associates)

taxes $m
social taxes1
Social taxes
per head1
Year to 31 December 2011
US 174 131 12
France 111 52 45
UK 104 71 17
Germany 62 62 23
Brazil 47 10 17
Spain 39 7 14
Italy 38 12 24
Sweden 20 4 28
China 19 6 4
Australia 12 3 8
Other countries 157 89 5
Total 783 447 11

Reported staff costs, excluding incentives, rose by 8.6% and by 9.6% in constant currency. Incentive payments amounted to £338 million (or over $500 million) which was almost 20% of headline operating profit before incentives and income from associates and represented close to maximum achievement of agreed performance targets. Our objective remains to pay out approximately 20% of operating profit before bonus and taxes at maximum and 15% at target and, in some cases, 25% at ‘super-maximum’. Given the record profit and margin performance in 2011, most of the Group’s operating companies achieved record incentive levels – reflecting pay for performance, not failure. We should not be, and are not, hesitant to pay for success and be competitive internationally.

Before these incentive payments, headline PBIT margins rose by 0.8 margin points to 17.6%. The Group’s staff cost-to-revenue ratio, including incentives, increased by 0.3 margin points to 58.6% compared with 58.3% in 2010. Following intentional containment in 2009 and 2010 post-Lehman, the Group continued to increase its investment in human capital in 2011, particularly in the faster-growing geographic and functional markets as like-for-like revenues and gross margin increased significantly. However, the Group’s more representative staff costs to gross margin ratio remained flat at 63.6% compared with the prior year, as gross margin grew faster than revenues.

Part of the Group’s strategy is to continue to ensure that variable staff costs (incentives, freelance and consultants costs) are a significant proportion of total staff costs and revenue, as this provides flexibility to deal with volatility in revenues and recessions or slowdowns. In 2011, the ratio of variable staff costs to total staff costs was 12.2%, compared with 13.4% in 2010 and 9.7% in 2009. As a proportion of revenue, variable staff costs were 7.2% in 2011 compared with 7.8% in 2010 and 5.7% in 2009. The business is, therefore, well positioned if current market conditions change.

As a result of all this, headline PBIT rose over 16% to £1.429 billion from £1.229 billion, up over 17% in constant currencies. Reported PBIT rose over 22% to £1.258 billion from £1.028 billion, up over 23% in constant currencies.

Net finance costs (excluding the revaluation of financial instruments) were £200 million, up 2.5% from £195 million in 2010, reflecting lower average net debt, offset by higher funding costs. Headline profit before tax increased by almost 19% to £1.229 billion and reported profit before tax was up 18.5% to £1.008 billion, over £1 billion for the first time. 

The Group’s tax rate on headline profit before tax was 22.0%, the same as 2010, and on reported profit before tax was 9.1%, significantly less than the rate of 22.4% in 2010. The difference was primarily due to the exceptional release of prior year corporate tax provisions following the resolution of a number of open tax matters, together with deferred tax credits in relation to amortisation of acquired intangible assets.

Diluted headline earnings per share rose over 19% to 67.7p and diluted reported earnings per share increased over 40% to 64.5p. Including the exceptional tax credit, diluted headline earnings per share rose over 33% to 75.6p. No severance or integration or acquisition expenses have been excluded in arriving at headline earnings which is, unusually, not competitive practice.

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