UPDATE 1-Hays sees profit ahead of market view after strong March hiring

(Adds details, background, CEO quote)

April 13 (Reuters) - Recruitment agency Hays Plc on Tuesday forecast annual profit ahead of market expectations after a strong pick up in hiring activity in March in Germany, Australia, UK and Asia.

Staffing firms around the world have struggled with a sharp drop in fees, which led some of them to downsize their own workforce, as most sectors held back on new hires due to the global health crisis.

But a ramp-up in vaccination programmes and re-opening of economies have encouraged many companies to resume recruiting.

Rival PageGroup said last week a hiring surge in March has given it confidence on its financial outlook for the year.

Hays, which operates in 33 countries, said it expects operating profit for 2021 to be at least 85 million pounds ($116.82 million) compared with 135 million pounds in 2020.

The company said net fees in the third quarter ended March 31 fell 10%, which was lower than consensus estimates.

Hays CEO Alistair Cox said there clearly were skill shortages in certain industries, specifically Technology and Life Sciences.

“We are confident we will continue to take further market share as clients and candidates look for our expert recruitment guidance, both during and after COVID,” he added.

While the company’s consultant headcount fell 12% over the prior year, it expects to increase hiring by a further 2%-4% in the fourth quarter.

$1 = 0.7276 pounds Reporting by Aniruddha Ghosh and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri