Recruiter Michael Page see early signs of recovery for 2014

Wed Mar 5, 2014 8:25am EST

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By Li-mei Hoang

LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - Recruitment firm Michael Page is hopeful a recovery in its main markets that began last year will continue after the company reported a 3.5 percent rise in full-year pretax profit.

The group, which specialises in professional areas such as accounting and finance, increased pre-tax profit to 67.1 million pounds ($111.88 million) from 64.8 million a year earlier.

This fell just short of analyst expectations of 68 million, an average estimate from a Thomson Reuters poll of 18 analysts.

"Throughout last year, we saw a trend of gradual improvement and that trend has continued up until today and hopefully beyond," CEO Steve Ingham told Reuters.

Michael Page, which is focused on permanent recruitment, said it saw strong growth in North America, the Middle East and parts of Asia/Pacific but Australia remained a challenge, due to the slowdown in the mining sector.

In Europe, Middle East and Africa, its largest division representing 40 percent of gross profit, revenue rose by 1 percent to 407 million pounds.

In Britain, which represents 24 percent of gross profits, the group added 82 people, bringing its total global headcount to just over 5,200.

"The UK has steadily been improving for us and I think at the moment, it wouldn't be too optimistic of me to say we see that continuing and that's all across the country," Ingham said.

But he said the strong pound was an issue for the group. "The strength of the pound obviously doesn't work in our favour ... Roughly speaking, if that continued this year and stayed where it is, the impact on this year could be 3 to 4 million (pounds)."

Shares in Michael Page, also known as PageGroup, were down 0.8 percent at 500 pence by 1221 GMT, broadly in line with the FTSE 250 index which was down 0.47 percent.

"The trading update is what we would expect at this stage," Oriel Securities Analyst Hector Forsythe said.

"It includes a reminder on the shortness of visibility, a reference to currency translation pressures, comments that the strength and timing of recovery is uncertain but that the group is well positioned to respond to any improvements in market conditions."

Last week, rival Hays said it planned to boost its own workforce for the first time in six years, after a recovery in construction and property markets helped lift pretax profit by 10 percent in the first-half of its financial year.

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