(Adds CEO comments, analyst reaction, shares)
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, April 15 (Reuters) - British recruiter Michael Page International said its businesses in France and Germany returned to growth in the first quarter, helping gross profit rise a greater-than-expected 7 percent in constant-currency terms.
The company, which mainly finds candidates to fill permanent positions, reported gross profit of 126.6 million pounds ($212 million) on Tuesday, just ahead of an analyst consensus forecast of 125.4 million pounds.
Chief Executive Steve Ingham said it was a good start to the year, with growth in local currencies in all four of its regions for the first time in eight quarters.
“We were already growing in the UK and Americas, but what is particularly reassuring is our biggest region - Europe, Middle East and Africa - has turned positive,” he said in an interview.
Growth in Asia was also outstripping the impact of a downturn in Australia, he said.
Page shares were up 0.6 percent at 461.5 pence at 0853 GMT.
Analysts at HSBC said Page had beaten its estimates in every country in constant currency terms, although there was also a little more cost, partly due to rolling out a new website.
“Investors will like the confidence and the return to growth,” they said. HSBC has an “over weight” rating on Page.
Ingham said the new website would help it capitalize on higher demand. “As you go into growth, very quickly we will move into a period of candidate shortage, so if we have a better website to improve candidate attraction, we have to use it quicker,” he said.
More companies were recruiting permanent staff, he said, and the group’s ratio of permanent to temporary grew to 77:23 from 75:25 in the previous quarter.
Salaries of permanent hires was also increasing, led by the United States, generating higher finder fees.
The impact of currency movements, particularly in Japan, Australia and Brazil, wiped out the gains in local currency terms, resulting in flat gross profit.
But the company said it was on track to meet analyst expectations for full-year gross profit of 538.5 million pounds. ($1 = 0.5976 British Pounds) (Editing by Kate Holton and Tom Pfeiffer)