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First Look The latest financial records at WPP Group, the first of the major multiagency, multinational holding companies to reveal 1997 results, offer economic insights that others can take away. First: The marketing services business around the world is running at a brisk pace. Ignoring currency fluctuations and acquisitions, WPP's revenues were up 8.4 percent last year, better than most host-country GDPs. Second: Currency fluctuations are starting to become an issue again. WPP, based in Britain, is being hurt by the rising value of sterling. Most dramatically, in Continental Europe a 14 percent gain in local-currency revenue became a 5 percent dip when converted into pounds. Third: Advertising, which remains the largest of the marketing services, continues to lose standing, accounting for 55 percent of WPP's 1996's volume versus 53 percent of 1997's. Finally: A bright side may exist to the collapse of financial markets in Asia. For one thing, most of the major ad shops derive much of their Asian billings from non-Asian multinationals, which remain eager and able to chase the Asian consumer. As always, one person's distress is another's opportunity. Watch for companies like WPP to add to their roster of subsidiaries and bolster their presence in the region in time to catch the wave of economic recovery. -Alan Gottesman (westendal pobox.com) is principal of West End Consulting.


THE GOTTESMAN FILE
Key financial statistics from WPP's earnings release for 1997

............1996.....1997.....Change (as reported).....Change (constant currency)
...
Revenue ..... 1,691.3 ..... 1,746.7 ..... 3.3% ..... 11.2%
Operating profit ..... 182.4 ..... 205.5 ..... 12.7% ..... 23.2%
Net income ..... 100.0 ..... 116.0 ..... 16.0% ..... 28.9%
Earnings per share ..... 13.7p ..... 15.7p ..... 14.6% ..... 27.2%

Source: WPP Group. Data in millions of pounds, except per-share amounts