Michael Page says job market stagnant

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The head of British recruitment group Michael Page International Plc said on Monday he saw no sign of improvement in the job market after weak economic conditions sent earnings sharply lower in the first half.

Adjusted pretax profit fell 21 percent to 36.1 million pounds ($56.6 million), broadly as expected. Shares in the group, which have lost a quarter of their value since March, were trading 0.2 percent lower at 378 pence by 10:38 SA time.

The recruitment sector has slowed in the past 12 months as a deteriorating outlook for the global economy and weakness in the banking sector led to companies delaying hiring and workers being more cautious about changing jobs.

“Things don't seem to be getting any better,” chief executive Steve Ingham said in an interview. “I suppose (the market is getting) marginally tougher, but only gradually getting tougher

“Our strongest region continues to be Asia-Pacific - we ended the first half with record performances in Singapore, China and Japan - but it clearly remains tough here (in Britain), and clearly tough in the euro zone.”

The tough conditions saw first-half pretax profit at rival Robert Walters fall by more than half earlier this month, while Hays posted quarterly net fees growth at the bottom end of expectations in July.

Broker Peel Hunt, which has a “sell” recommendation on Michael Page stock, said the group's pretax profit was in line with expectations, but the outlook was tough and it anticipated consensus forecasts coming down for 2012 and 2013.

“The long-term story for Michael Page remains intact, but we consider the current rating reflects a recovery in the short term that is unlikely to materialise,” analyst Henry Carver said.

Michael Page, which specialises in professional recruitment, said it expected full-year operating profit from trading activities to be broadly in line with consensus.

Analysts expect an outcome of 71.5 million pounds, down from 86 million pounds a year ago, according to a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll.

The company had already reported broadly flat gross profit of 274 million pounds for the first half in July. - Reuters

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