Most investors would drastically improve their long-term track records if they only bought wide-moat companies at attractive prices. The latter part of the equation is a near impossibility now that stock prices have run up 150% since their 2009 lows, but identifying wide-moat companies when the market is up enables investors to quickly pull the trigger when stocks get cheap.
The wide-moat company discussed in this article, Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC), is a leader in the advertising industry. Many companies in this industry have attractive business models, but none is better-positioned to succeed than Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC).
Best in the business
Most advertising agencies earn stable profit margins due to the large variable costs in the business; when business is good, the companies hire more staff and spend more on projects, and the inverse is true as well.
Margin stability makes the industry attractive, but also competitive. Both Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC) and rival WPP plc – American Depositary Shares each representing five Ordinary Shares (NASDAQ:WPPGY) typically earn 10% to 12% operating margins. Interpublic Group of Companies Inc (NYSE:IPG) would earn the same if not for a few disastrous acquisitions; management has since sworn off acquisitions and has developed a plan to improve its margins to Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC)’s level.
In any case, businesses in the industry typically perform about as well as all the others in the industry, at least on the operating level. As a result, the primary competitive benchmark is not how high a company’s profit margins are, but how big a share of the market the company has.
Though Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC) earns margins in line with the rest of the industry, it has a built-in advantage for building and maintaining market share. Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC) is essentially a holding company that owns the three highest-rated advertising firms in the world: BBDO, DDB Worldwide, and TBWA Worldwide. Although few outside the industry have heard of these agencies, the three firms regularly sweep the year-end industry awards for excellence.
Omnicom’s three outstanding agencies not only attract new customers, they also help retain existing ones. Management has been careful not to integrate the businesses; in fact, they largely operate as three separate advertising agencies. As a result, a customer that is unhappy with one of the three agencies can be shuttled to one of the other two and Omnicom will still keep their business. This creates unusually high customer retention, allowing Omnicom to defend its market share better than its competitors can protect their own.