WPP banks £2.5bn as it finally sells Kantar

WPP sign

WPP will bank £2.5bn from selling a stake in Kantar as the advertising giant overhauls its sprawling portfolio built up over decades by its longtime chief Sir Martin Sorrell.

US private equity group Bain Capital has agreed to buy a majority stake in the market research business, confirming earlier speculation, in a deal that values Kantar at £3.2bn.

 Several big private equity funds, including EQT, Permira and CVC, had been linked to the lengthy sale process.

The sale comes as WPP, which owns advertising agencies including Ogilvy and Wunderman Thompson, grapples with a share price that has sunk more than a third in the past two years. 

WPP is also trying to trim its debt following several profit warnings and the loss of major accounts including Ford and GSK. 

The company said it would use about 60pc of the proceeds to reduce debt, with roughly £1bn to be returned to shareholders.

The sale of Kantar is part of a three-year reorganisation launched by Mr Read, who succeeded Sir Martin as chief executive last year and is now tasked with streamlining the company.

He aims to save £275m a year by the end of 2021 by selling assets and closing unprofitable businesses. 

At the end of the last year, WPP had raised £704m from selling more than a dozen non-core businesses.

Mr Read said: "With a much stronger balance sheet and a return of approximately 8% of our current market value to shareholders planned, we are making good progress with our transformation."

Eric Salama, chief executive of Kantar, said the deal would help the business become more “technology-driven”.

Mark Read succeeded Sir Martin as chief executive last year

Kantar was founded in 1993 and conducts brand and marketing research for 92 of the world's largest 100 advertisers. It also tracks social media posts in 67 languages across 190 countries, allowing it to provide information on consumer viewing and shopping habits and social media use.

Earlier this year WPP sold Britain’s largest television post-production company, The Farm, to Los Angeles-based Picture Shop. Last week it offloaded its minority stake in Chime Group, a sports-focused marketing services business, to private equity investor Providence.