Omnicom and Publicis say merger to close by mid-2014 at latest

Reuters

BARCELONA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - The $35.1 billion tie-up ofadvertising groups Omnicom and Publicis willclose by the middle of next year at the latest, the two groupssaid on Thursday, pushing the date back slightly later thanexpected.

Omnicom's Chief Executive John Wren and Publicis bossMaurice Levy said they are still waiting on some regulatoryapprovals, including Russia and the European Union, which couldmean they just miss the original target of closing the deal bythe end of March.

"We'll close certainly in the first half and as early as wecan," Wren told the Morgan Stanley investor conference inBarcelona, sat next to Levy and being watched by leadingcompetitors, including WPP boss Martin Sorrell.

Once the two groups have been given the green light, thenewly formed board will meet to discuss how to return additionalearnings to shareholders beyond the already committed dividendpayout ratio of 35 percent.

"We have already committed publicly to a dividend of 35percent ... and that will be done. And when the new board getstogether we'll sit down and we'll discuss with the new board howwe're going to return the remainder of the earnings to theshareholders, after we've taken care of what our needs are,"Wren said.

Omnicom and Publicis, the world's second and third-largestadvertising groups respectively, announced their intention tomerge in July, saying that they needed to combine to keep pacewith technological change and the Internet.

The newly formed U.S. and French company will leapfrogSorrell's WPP, currently the world's biggest advertising group.

The jumbo deal is rare among the world's "Big Six"advertising groups, which have spent the past few years buyingup much smaller businesses in emerging markets and among Webmarketing specialists.

If completed, the tie-up will shift the focus to those leftstanding alone, such as WPP, United States-based Interpublic, France's Havas and Japan's Dentsu.

Wren said the new group would make some acquisitions but notat levels seen in the past. The stance will mean that the groupcould return more cash to shareholders than has already beencommitted, he explained on the sidelines of the conference.

"We will not be hoarding cash," he said. "I cannot say morenow because it is a board decision."

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