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June 18, 2008

Morgan Stanley hails Roger Parry as King of the Bears: Prepare your handbasket for hellish ordeal, say bankers

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

Nasty. Morgan Stanley has slashed its profits forecasts for the media sector in 2009 and 2010.

In an aggressively-worded note, the bank’s media analysts foresee distress spreading from consumer-facing media companies to their B2B counterparts. Like this:

Away from the consumer-related areas we see pressures mounting in the corporate environment.

Finance directors looking into the second half of 2008 and into 2009 are likely to seek to reduce controllable costs whether in advertising, marketing, information costs, travel and other expenses.

This means that, while the thrust of this note is to reduce expectations for consumer-related companies, we also take down numbers for those exposed to B2b markets and professional publishing.

Morgan Stanley has cut its profit forecasts for what it calls “advertising inventory companies” (I guess this means anyone who sells advertising) by a whopping 17%.

Advertising and marketing agencies have been cut by 12%. BSkyB is down by 10%. And “professional publishers” are down by 6%.

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Morgan Stanley is very bearish on what it calls the “cyclicals” (ITV, Trinity Mirror), which remain dogged by “a combination of structural deterioration, heavy downgrades and, in some cases, leverage fears”.

One possible exception is Johnston Press. Having endured the pain of an early rights issue, the company “could produce very attractive returns on a 2 year view”.

(Note that reference to “heavy downgrades”: The point here is that share price collapses haven’t yet been “heavy” enough to generate buying signals. The implications of this are fairly scary.)

Among the few positives, Morgan Stanley regards United Business Media and DMG&T as “safe” and “interesting”.

A big shake-out is predicted for adland, as revenue growth moves from 3.75% in 2008 to -1% in 2009. As Morgan Stanley puts it:

In 2008, boosted by a strong start to the year and by the ‘super quadrennial’ factors (Beijing Olympics, US Presidential elections, Euro 2008) most forecasters have assumed organic revenue growth of around 5%.

In 2009 estimates for organic revenue growth tend to range in the vicinity of 3-4%. Our starting point is now to ask why there should be any global advertising growth in 2009.

Losing 1% of growth (in revenues) might not sound like much. But when that 1% falls down to the profit line, it becomes a very big number. In organisations with large fixed costs (including employees), it’s also a very threatening number. . .

Scrabbling around for corroboration on this, Morgan Stanley alight upon Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, who has been warning of a 2009 slowdown for as long as anyone can remember.

But who is the uber-bear identified by Morgan Stanley as supporting their arguments? Step forward Roger Parry, chairman of Johnston Press, Future Publishing and Media Square, the troubled marketing services company.

No doubt Parry’s unvarnished honesty horrifies the financial PRs who have to work with him. Last week, he explained Media Square’s disappointing results by commenting upon “the amazing speed with which the advertising economy has tanked out in the last six months”.

For good measure, Parry added that “the level to which confidence has fallen is really scary.”

At the time, I was rather hoping that no-one would notice his comments.

Too bad: Morgan Stanley did.

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