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Letter to share owners*

Dear share owner

2010, our twenty-fifth year, was a year of significant recovery and a record year in almost all respects, as clients re-focused on top-line sales growth and expansion, particularly in faster-growth geographic markets, as well as continued cost containment in the slower-growth markets of the US and Western Europe. Following a brutal 2009, when the post-Lehman financial world did not come to an end, as some had feared, the recovery has been remarkable.

Our business is being transformed by new markets, new media and consumer insights which provide major opportunities to enhance our future growth and profitability. We believe these factors and, more importantly, how we respond to them, will significantly enhance the value of your Company in the future.

 

Total share owner return increased sharply, with your share price rising 180p, or 30%, to 789.5 p from 609.5p during the year. Since the year end, your share price has fallen to 723.0p at the time of writing, reflecting concern about the potential negative impact of political events in North Africa, the Middle East and the human catastrophe in Japan. Dividends were increased by 15% to 17.79p, a record level.

Billings were up over 12% to £42.7 billion. Revenues were up over 7% to £9.3 billion. Including 100% of associates, revenue is estimated to total over £11.6 billion. Our revenues exceeded all our competitors for the third consecutive year, by an increasing amount. Headline PBIT was up almost 21% to £1.229 billion against £1.017 billion in 2009. Headline PBIT margin was 13.2% in 2010 against 11.7% last year. The Group achieved a Headline PBIT margin of 15.8% in the second half of the year, 0.4 margin points above the margin achieved in the second half of both 2009 and 2008, including TNS on a pro-forma basis. In the second half of the year the business returned to pre-Lehman pro-forma levels of revenue and profitability, with higher productivity. On gross margin, the headline PBIT margin was 14.4%, up 1.7 margin points on 2009. This is probably a more accurate basis for competitive comparisons. Reported profit before interest and tax rose over 25% to £1.028 billion, over £1 billion for the first time, from £819 million.

Headline EBITDA (which is a key metric that private equity firms, for example, use for valuing companies) increased by almost 16% to £1.439 billion, above £1 billion for the fifth consecutive year. Headline profit before tax was up over 27% to £1.034 billion, above £1 billion also for the first time. Reported profit before tax was up over 28% to £851 million. Diluted headline earnings per share were up almost 28% to 56.7p (an all-time high) and diluted reported earnings per share up 30% to 45.9p.

Free cash flow strengthened to £902 million in the year. Net debt averaged £3.1 billion in 2010, down £0.3 billion at 2010 exchange rates, and net debt at 31 December 2010 was £1.9 billion, or £0.7 billion lower than 2009, reflecting significant improvement in profitability and improved cash flows, despite a continued client emphasis on improved liquidity, as well as effectiveness and efficiency. Equity analysts appear comfortable with the level of the Group’s average net debt, which was around 2.1 times headline EBITDA in 2010.

Headline interest cover in 2010 was 6.3 times. So far, in the first three months of 2011, average net debt was down approximately £0.6 billion at £2.2 billion against £2.8 billion for the same period in 2010, at 2011 exchange rates, again reflecting strong cash flows.

With a current equity market capitalisation of approximately £9.1 billion, the total enterprise value of your Company is approximately £11.7 billion, almost 8.4 times headline EBITDA.


* This letter to share owners should be read in conjunction with and as part of the management report set out in the section headed Directors’ report.