WPP shares have fallen to their lowest since 2012 as investors weren’t pleased with the agency’s net sales falling by 1.9% in Q4 of 2019.

The agency group suffered slowdowns in a number of key markets, but CEO Mark Read remains adamant that 2019 was a “foundational year” in his three-year turnaround plan.

Return to growth

In December 2018, Read announced the plan to return to growth, and had previously warned recovery would take time. Investors sent shares down by as much as 15% in early trading to around 770p – the lowest in eight years.

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Overall, net sales fell 1.6% to £13.2bn in 2019, making it one of the poorer performers among the big six groups.

WPP’s global integrated agencies in the UK, such as the media buying arm Group M, also suffered after losing global media accounts including HSBC and American Express at the end of 2018.

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North America, a weak spot for three years, slid 4.5% compared with a 3.5% fall in the Q3. Asia-Pacific, Latin America and central and eastern Europe also performed less well, with Africa and the Middle East improving.

“2019 was the foundational year for the new WPP strategy,” Read said, unveiling the annual results.

He added:

“I am optimistic about the future of our industry and WPP’s position within it, although there is still much more work to do. The marketing landscape has never been more dynamic and complex; clients need our help and expertise more than ever.”

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More generally, the UK was weak with net sales, slumping 3.7% in the Q4 compared with 3.1% growth in the Q3.

Four of the big six groups – WPP, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu Aegis Network and Havas – reported declines in organic revenue last year. Only Interpublic and Omnicom increased revenue in 2019.