Should I Invest in WPP?

LONNDON -- To me, capital growth and dividend income are equally important. Together, they provide the total return from any share investment and, as you might expect, my aim is to invest in companies that can beat the total return delivered by the wider market.

To put that aim into perspective, the FTSE 100 has provided investors with a total return of around 3% per annum since January 2008.

Quality and value
If my investments are to outperform, I need to back companies that score well on several quality indicators and buy at prices that offer decent value.

So this series aims to identify appealing FTSE 100 investment opportunities and today I'm looking at WPP  (LSE: WPP  ) (NASDAQ: WPPGY  ) , which provides marketing communications services such as advertising and public relations.

With the shares at 1190 pence, WPP's market cap is 15,054 million pounds.

This table summarizes the firm's recent financial record:

Year to December

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Revenue (million pounds)

7,477

8,684

9,331

10,022

10,373

Net cash from operations (million pounds)

923

819

1,361

665

908

Adjusted earnings per share (pence)

56.7

45.1

59.3

71

77.7

Dividend per share (pence)

15.47

15.47

17.79

24.6

28.51

Marketing spend can be one of the first items that organizations trim in austere times, so the trading results of a company like WPP that provides such services can be something of a litmus test for gauging the health of the general economic environment.

Recently, the firm has been doing quite well. The U.S. is the firm's biggest market, providing about 35% of revenue, which is down 1% on a like-for-like basis in the last quarter. But in the less mature markets of the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe, which collectively provide sales of around 29.1%, the like-for-like performance is up 7.8%. Predictably, Western Europe's 23.4% contribution is down, by 0.8%, yet the 12.5% of revenue that originates in Britain is up 3.7%.

Overall, those results are encouraging and follow a steadily improving performance over the last three years. My view is that the macro-economic environment is likely to continue its recovery in the coming years and so I'm optimistic about WPP's ability to please with regard to ongoing total returns.

WPP's total-return potential
Let's examine five indicators to help judge the quality of the company's total-return potential:

  1. Dividend cover: adjusted earnings covered last year's dividend around 2.7 times. 4/5
  2. Borrowings: net debt is running at around 2.4 times the level of operating profit. 3/5
  3. Growth: growing revenue and earnings with lagging cash flow. 4/5
  4. Price to earnings: a forward 13 or so seems up with growth and yield expectations. 3/5
  5. Outlook: good recent trading and a positive outlook. 5/5

Overall, I score WPP 19 out of 25, which encourages me to believe the firm has potential to outpace the wider market's total return going forward.

Foolish summary
Decent dividend cover, under-control borrowings, a good growth record, and a positive outlook meet a fair valuation, which encourages me to believe that, yes, I should invest in WPP on any share-price weakness.

I'm going to keep an eye on WPP for an appealing entry point. It's on my list of attractive growth opportunities along with a share that one of the Fool's top investment writers has uncovered. He has put his money where his mouth is by investing and believes the share is the "Motley Fool's Top Growth Share for 2013." In this new Fool report, you can discover how the firm has reenvisioned itself to allow for tremendous growth along new horizons. Right now, the report is free to download and tells you exactly why our expert has invested in, and expects strong growth from, this changing company with a strong pedigree. To get your copy, click here.

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  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 10:31 AM, chrismac1957 wrote:

    My 10 year view of WPP is not great, especially when compared to its closest competitors Omnicom and Publicis.

    But the elephant in the room with WPP is the fact that 1Q13 organic revenue is only 2%. They are a "balance sheet company" meaning they grow revenue through acquisition and move the debt to the balance sheet.

    Why do their acquisitions do so poorly after they are folded into WPP?

    This is always a recipe for disaster and deeply concerning.

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