WPP plans New York float for Far East ad agencies

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The Independent Online
THE advertising group WPP is considering a US flotation for its Far East agencies in a bid to slash debts by an estimated pounds 100m.

The plan has been masterminded by Merrill Lynch, the US securities house, as an alternative to two other fund-raising proposals put to Martin Sorrell, WPP's chief executive, by rival firms.

Under the Merrill scheme, the Far East operations of its two agencies, J Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather, would be packaged into a new entity and listed on Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange.

WPP has been considering a partial sale of its Far East interests for a long time - but only on the Tokyo or Hong Kong markets. It has shied away from taking this route because of the political and economic uncertainty affecting both markets. However, the Merrill plan provides Mr Sorrell with a new option to cut the group's estimated pounds 330m debts.

One of the other alternatives before WPP is to sell a stake of up to 49 per cent in its market research business, comprising Millward Brown, MRB Group and Research International. Banking advisers to the group estimate this arm could be worth dollars 400m.

Separately, the group is also considering a dollars 250m bond issue, sponsored by Citibank. However a bond issue could restrict WPP's ability to enter into deals.

Merrill's proposal is thought to be modelled on a novel US public offering sponsored by the firm for Amway Corporation, the US consumer products group that last month hived off its Far East businesses into a Hong Kong-based but Bermuda-registered company. Since then, Amway Asia Pacific's shares have doubled.