'Encouraging' start to year in the UK for Michael Page

THE recruitment heavyweight Michael Page International is beginning to see the recovery under way in its overseas markets spread to the UK.

The group, which is one of the UK's largest recruitment firms, yesterday described its performance in the first three months of 2010 as "encouraging" and said all four of its global operating regions showed improvement on the previous quarter.

Although the company, which has offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, said its domestic performance had been better than expected, it cautioned that there was still significant uncertainty in the UK market and in its European and North American businesses.

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Profits for the group, which generates about 70 per cent of its business outside the UK, were 97.8 million in the three months to 31 March, up 7.9 per cent on the previous quarter and up 2.9 per cent on a year earlier.

In the UK, profits were up 9.2 per cent on three months earlier at 28.9m, helped by a turnaround in the financial services, retail and technology sectors.

Chief executive Steve Ingham said: "The improvement in our performance has been driven largely by greater permanent recruitment activity, as confidence levels have increased, leading to a higher rate of job churn, and a stronger than expected performance in the UK.

"The UK is not suddenly fantastic, but I would just say we've got a very good diversity in our business, which means we're focused up and down the country and across all disciplines and all industry sectors."

He added that efforts to diversify the group meant that 40 per cent of its fee-earners were in developing markets.

"We have strong market-leading positions in specialist recruitment in Asia and Latin America and are particularly optimistic about our prospects in these regions," he said.

"While we believe the outlook for the UK, continental Europe and North America is less certain, we are now experiencing an improvement in almost all markets."

Analysts welcomed the turnaround in the UK, and stockbroker Panmure Gordon upgraded its 2010 forecast for earnings per share by 24 per cent.

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Earlier this week, rival recruitment firm Hays reported a slowdown in public sector activity in the UK in its third quarter, but said the overall picture was one of "continued stability".

Shares in Michael Page closed up 15.5, or 3.6 per cent, at 439p, valuing the business at 1.36bn.