Robert Walters PLC (LON:RWA) said it expects profits for its current year will be “comfortably ahead of expectations” as market conditions began to recover in its first quarter.

In a trading update for the three months to March 31, the recruitment firm reported net fee income (NFI) of £77.3mln, 12% lower year-on-year, although the group said this was a “significant improvement” on the preceding three quarters which saw NFI declines of 26%, 30% and 34% respectively.

READ: Robert Walters says full year profits to be ahead of forecasts despite income decline in fourth quarter

The company said activity levels across permanent, contract and interim employment, as well as recruitment process outsourcing, have all “trended positively” through the quarter.  NFI from its core Asia-Pacific region declined just 5% in the period to £32.8mln.

The firm added the majority of its offices are now open and it increased headcount during the quarter to 3,221 from 3,147 at the end of 2020.

“I am pleased to report that the positive momentum in the group’s performance since quarter two 2020 has continued through the first quarter of 2021, with candidate and client confidence sequentially improving across most of the group’s global footprint. As a reflection of the improving market sentiment, we increased headcount during the quarter, with hiring focused in those geographies and disciplines showing the strongest signs of growth”, chief executive Robert Walters said in a statement.

“The improvement in market conditions has already enabled the group to benefit from operational gearing. Whilst it is still difficult to be certain that there will be no further globally disruptive events ahead, the board is currently confident that profit for the year is likely to be comfortably ahead of market expectations”, he added.

Shares in the group jumped 4.4% to 662p in early deals on Wednesday.

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