Hays profits slump 80 per cent in tough trading conditions

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The Independent Online

Signs of a recovery in the job market came too late to prevent an 80 per cent drop in annual profits at Hays, the recruitment group.

The white-collar job specialist announced a pre-tax profit of £71m in the year to 30 June yesterday, down from £150m.

Alistair Cox, chief executive, called the first half of the year "a very tough market, one of the toughest ever witnessed", but said "we believe we turned the corner in December".

Mr Cox said record revenues in Asia, where recruitment was back to pre-recession levels, and improvements in UK private sector hiring in recent months gave Hays a positive outlook for the coming year. It had continued to invest during the downturn, he said, and would open an office in Mexico City, its second in South and Latin America, this year. Hays' first US office in New Jersey would follow.

The FTSE 250 group sought to downplay its reliance on the UK public sector – where hiring remains at a prolonged standstill – saying it only accounted for 10 per cent of its global revenues, 58 per cent of which were now earned from outside the UK.

Steve Woolf, an analyst at Numis Securities, said: "The weakness is currently confined to back office public sector [recruitment], but we believe that a broader impact lies ahead, and that macro uncertainly could put pressure on the ability of the private sector to support UK performance."

The figures were dented by a £30m fine imposed by the Office of Fair Trading for anti-competitive behaviour while recruiting construction workers. Hays is appealing against the fine.

Net fees fell 17 per cent to £556m last year. The dividend was held at 5.8p.