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UPDATE 1-Recruiter SThree first-half profit halves as virus halts hiring; shares slip

(Adds details, CEO and analyst comments, background, shares)

July 20 (Reuters) - British recruiting firm SThree Plc said on Monday its first-half profit nearly halved, as coronavirus lockdowns slowed hiring globally, sending its shares about 4% lower in early trade.

“There is no doubt that the pandemic has turned working practices on their head and accelerated trends such as flexible working,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Dorman said in a statement.

The recruitment industry has been reeling under the pressure of a hiring freeze, after governments imposed lockdowns to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, SThree had ceased all hiring activities in April and cut its dividend and slashed management pay to cushion the blow.

SThree, which operates in 16 countries, also said net fees fell 7% to 151.2 million pounds ($189.74 million).

However, analysts at Liberum pointed out in a note that the company’s balance sheet was solid, adding it could withstand worst case scenarios.

Its peers PageGroup Plc, Robert Walters and Hays have also reported huge drops in net fees earlier this month.

SThree, which hires employees for finance, energy, banking, pharmaceutical, engineering and tech sectors, said adjusted pretax profit for six months to May 31 dropped to 12.6 million pounds, from 24 million pounds in the year-ago period.

$1 = 0.7969 pounds Reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich