Marketing group Aegis reported a 19 percent increase in first-half operating profit, in line with expectations, as its market-research unit returned to profit, reaping the benefits of past cost cuts.

Aegis, long seen as an acquisition target for French rival Havas , said it expected to meet 2010 market consensus and to raise its operating margin slightly, while organic growth should continue to improve after a 3.2 percent first-half rise.

We are seeing signs of a rebound in both the advertising and market-research sectors. While it is too early to predict a sustained longer-term recovery, we are optimistic about the short term outlook, new Chief Executive Jerry Buhlmann said.

Shares in Aegis slipped 0.4 percent to 111 pence by 8:07 a.m. on Friday, in line with the European media index <.SXMP>.

UBS analyst Alastair Reid called the results robust but said any expectations of positive surprises in the second half should be tempered by management's comments that it was happy with current consensus.

Aegis's Carat media agency raised its global advertising forecast, predicting that spending would rise 3.9 percent this year, up from a previous forecast of 2.9 percent, driven by the United States, Asia Pacific and Latin America.

WPP , the world's biggest advertising agency by revenues, this week reported like-for-like revenue up 2.5 percent and 7-month sales up 3.1 percent after a rebound in advertising in traditional media such as TV.

Omnicom Group and Publicis
have also reported strong first-half results as major clients returned to the spending offensive, especially in the United States.

Buhlmann said Aegis would continue to buy companies that bolstered its position in fast-growing markets and digital media. We may see some slightly larger ones, he told journalists on a conference call.

Aegis said first-half revenue rose 3.2 percent organically to 663 million pounds, beating a forecast of 649 million pounds from Thomson Reuters StarMine SmartEstimates, which weights analysts according to their past accuracy.

Underlying operating profit was 61.1 million pounds, exactly in line with the SmartEstimate.

Aegis, made up of marketing division Aegis Media and market-research unit Synovate, said it would raise its interim dividend by 6.8 percent to 1.025 pence, beating the SmartEstimate of 1 pence.

(Editing by David Cowell and Mark Potter)