WPP enjoys sales rise ahead of sports events 'bonus' but repeats Brexit fears
Sir Martin Sorrell's global advertising group WPP revealed better-than-expected trading and cheered this year's sporting events as a "bonus" in the face of Brexit fears.
The group saw like-for-like net sales rise by 3.2% in the first three months of the year, beating its 3% target, while it said its performance across the board was "well ahead of budget".
WPP again raised concerns over the impact of the EU referendum in June.
The group said: "It is generally agreed by both sides that an 'out' vote will result, at least in the short term or mid term, in GDP weakness in the UK, the EU and possibly globally, let alone further political and economic uncertainty in the UK around Scottish independence and further disintegration of the EU."
But it is looking to a strong year ahead, particularly in the final six months, thanks to events including Euro 2016.
"The pattern for 2016 looks very similar to 2015, but with the bonus of the maxi-quadrennial events of the visually stunning Rio Olympics, the Uefa Euro Football Championships and, of course, the United States presidential election to boost marketing investments," said WPP.
"Indications are that full-year like-for-like revenue will be up well over 3% and net sales growth will be up over 3%, with a stronger second half," it added.
The group's first quarter performance was helped by a 6.9% surge in US comparable revenues to £1.2 billion, while the UK saw a 4.7% rise to £451 million.
It said the UK growth was weaker than a year earlier, but "well ahead" of the overall level seen in the fourth quarter and second half of 2015.
Sir Martin recently defended his controversial £63 million pay packet amid increasing scrutiny over executive remuneration.
He said that "if WPP does well, I do well", but is likely to face questions over the mammoth pay package at its annual general meeting in June.
WPP's shares fell 2% after the group's first quarter update as the wider London market sank into the red.
Charlie Huggins, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: " Advertising is a cyclical industry, but at the moment conditions in most of WPP's markets are good."
He added: "As long as the global economy behaves itself, WPP should be capable of strong growth."
Sir Martin's pay plan - which consists of a £1.15 million salary and a share package worth £62.78 million - makes him the best paid chief executive in the FTSE 100.
It comes after WPP posted a 2.8% rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £1.49 billion.
But a recent humiliating shareholder rebellion at BP over boss Bob Dudley's pay deal, when almost 60% of shareholders rejected its remuneration report, has suggested a return to the so-called shareholder spring of 2012.
Sir Martin was one of those under-fire in 2012, with nearly 60% of WPP investors rejecting his £6.8 million pay packet.
Asked if he was embarrassed about his pay, Sir Martin said there was a "democratic process" to approve the package.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "I'm not embarrassed about the growth of the company from two people in one room in Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1985 to 190,000 people in 112 countries and a leadership position in our industry, which I think is important."
Asked if he believed the public was hard on highly-paid bosses, he said any comparisons to Sir Philip Green were "specious".