Headline operating margin (including income from associates) increased 0.5 margin points to a record 15.0% from 14.5%, in line with the revised target set in February 2007.
Reported operating costs together with direct costs (but excluding goodwill impairment, amortisation of acquired intangibles and profits on disposal of fixed asset investments), rose by 4.2% and by 7.9% in constant currency. Like-for-like total operating and direct costs rose 4.6%. Reported staff costs, excluding incentives (which includes the cost of share-based compensation), were up 4.6%. Incentive payments (including the cost of share-based compensation) totalled £230.7 million (£246.9 million in 2006), down 6.6%, which represents 20.6% (23.1% in 2006) of headline operating profit before bonuses and income from associates. Before these incentive payments, operating margins remain strong at 18.7%. On a reported basis, the Group's staff cost to revenue ratio improved 0.5 margin points to 58.3% compared with 58.8% in 2006.
Part of the Group's strategy is to continue to increase variable staff costs as a proportion of total staff costs and revenue, as this provides flexibility to deal with volatility in revenues and recessions or slow-downs. Through the cyclical upswing of the 1990s, variable staff costs as a proportion of total staff costs increased, reaching a peak of 12.1% in 2000. The impact of the recession in 2001 and 2002 was to reduce this ratio to 9.2% and variable staff costs as a proportion of revenue to 5.3% (calculated under 2004 UK GAAP). In 2004, following the significant improvement in pre-bonus operating profit and incentives, variable staff costs as a proportion of staff costs increased. There was a slight deterioration in 2005, with the ratio declining slightly by 0.4 percentage points, to 12.8% (under IFRS – which includes 1.0 percentage points attributable to share-based compensation), but in 2006 the ratio strengthened again to 13.0%. In 2007 the proportion changed marginally by 0.3 percentage points to 12.7%.
The task of improving property utilisation continues to be a priority with a portfolio of approximately 19 million square feet worldwide. In December 2002, establishment cost as a percentage of revenue was 8.4%, with a goal of reducing this ratio to 7.0% in the medium term. At the end of 2004 the establishment cost to revenue ratio reduced to 7.6% and by December 2005 this ratio improved further to 7.2%, driven by better utilisation and higher revenues. In 2006 and 2007, further improvements were made and this ratio reduced slightly to 6.9%.