Sir Martin Sorrell’s return to the advertising industry just six weeks after his — still — unexplained exit as chief executive of WPP begs many questions.

To friends of the perma-tanned uber-networker, the most obvious is probably: what took him so long?

Those who had followed his recent movements — from New York’s Techonomy conference three weeks ago to last Monday’s Chelsea Flower Show confab with Goldman Sachs boss Richard Gnodde — would have known he was up to something . . .

Click here to read the rest of Matthew Vincent’s Lombard commentary via the Instant Insight section of FT.com.

De La Rue: positive ID

According to Wednesday’s results from specialist printer De La Rue, Brexit has not been good for Identity Solutions. That’s the name of its passport printing division, which had hoped to retain a £260m contract to supply new, true-blue, post-EU travel documents. But the division lost the tender, which cost it £3.7m and a quarter of its operating profit. All of which is somewhat ironic as, for many in the UK, Brexit basically is an Identity Solution. Certainly for those walking muscular dogs unnervingly close to Lombard’s beach towel this Bank Holiday weekend.

In fact, De La Rue’s loss of its passport contract and its finance director in March led some to wonder whether it faced an identity crisis. Its shares lost a fifth of their value on those pieces of news, despite the fact that Identity Solutions is less than a quarter the size of its banknote printing division. One investor, activist Crystal Amber, warned that De La Rue could lose its identity altogether. It told chief executive Martin Sutherland — and, helpfully, Reuters — that it had made itself “highly vulnerable” to a takeover unless it was able to change.

De La Rue’s results seemed to suggest it was. It presented itself as a less capital-intensive, more technology-led business, shorn of its paper operations. Half its operating profit will now come from providing polymer banknotes, security features and product authentication, plus remaining identity solutions work. Investors liked the new picture: the shares rose 4 per cent.

However, a 7 per cent rise in adjusted operating profit — excluding paper — owed less to new banknote technology than to an old fashioned way of making money last longer: linking future pension increases to slower consumer prices inflation. This helped De La Rue ink an £80m revaluation gain. Ignoring such one-offs, future profit guidance was actually largely unchanged.

De La Rue undoubtedly has valuable technologies, capable of far more than turning passports blue. But it may need them to deliver an identifiably higher profit if — like Lombard — it is to avoid a hostile presence on UK shores.

matthew.vincent@ft.com

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