Saatchi begins the climb back with 73m pounds cash call: Group to reduce debt and mount 'cautious expansion'

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The Independent Online
SAATCHI & SAATCHI, the struggling advertising group, yesterday joined the rights issue bandwagon with a pounds 73m cash call to reduce debts and finance an expansion programme.

The move takes total funds being raised from the market in rights issues this month to more than pounds 2bn, of which pounds 1.3bn is for Zeneca, the pharmaceuticals company being hived off from ICI, the chemicals giant. Earlier this week, British Airways launched a pounds 442m cash call.

Saatchi's 10-for-27 rights at 130p a share comes three years after it was forced into a massive refinancing to stave off collapse. The company, which reported a pounds 600m annual loss in March, said that pounds 36.5m of the proceeds would be used to cut its bank debt - pounds 190m last year.

Another pounds 19m will go to acquire minority interests in several of its agencies in Continental Europe. About pounds 11m is to be used to expand the agency network in new markets such as Eastern Europe, China and Latin America. The company said many of its multinational clients were expanding in those areas and wanted increased support.

In addition, the company plans to invest about pounds 7m in computer technology to cut the cost of producing creative work. The growth plans were foreshadowed by the Independent last month.

The cash call was accompanied by a pledge from the company to return to the dividend list next year. It has been forced to pass dividends since 1990 to conserve cash.

Charles Scott, chief executive, said: 'We have been cutting our costs and eliminating loss-making companies in the group for the past three years. Now we want to start a cautious expansion plan. Our clients have identified opportunities for growth and we have to go hand in hand with them.'

Mr Scott said that the rights issue would produce real benefits to shareholders. 'It is in their interests that we should be able to take advantage of the opportunities.'

Saatchi is the fifth UK advertising group to call on shareholders for additional funds. In March, rival WPP raised pounds 88m to repair its balance sheet. Gold Greenlees Trott, Osprey and Lopex have also sought funds.

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