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Dutch recruiter Randstad lags profit forecast in tough hiring market

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Adds Q2 forecast in paragraph 8, analyst comment in paragraph 9

By Shivani Tanna

April 23 (Reuters) -Randstad RAND.AS reported a bigger-than-expected drop in first-quarter core earnings on Tuesday, sending shares in the world's biggest employment agency down about 6%.

Recruiters have been flagging tough hiring conditions in recent quarters, as workers prefer to avoid the risk of switching jobs and employers offer smaller salary hikes amid market uncertainty.

The Dutch group reported a 33% fall in quarterly underlying earnings before interest, tax and amortisation (EBITA) to 177 million euros ($188.5 million), below the 181 million expected by analysts in a company-provided poll.

"Our core markets in North America and Northern Europe - so Netherlands, Germany and the likes - have been very, very challenging," CEO Sander van't Noordende told Reuters in an interview.

The highest inflation for decades and the impact of the war in Ukraine have forced companies across Europe into layoffs or hiring freezes.

Randstad shares were down 6.2% at 0831 GMT, as it joined British peers Hays HAYS.L, Robert Walters RWA.L and PageGroup PAGE.L in reporting a rough start to 2024.

It has seen similar activity levels in April as those in the first quarter, while the impact of inflation has normalised, van't Noordende said.

Randstad expects second-quarter operating costs to be modestly higher and gross margin to be broadly in line with the previous quarter.

Subdued activity levels suggest a 7% organic revenue drop in the second quarter if the trend persists, which is below a consensus for a 5.2% decline, Jefferies said in a note.

Randstad's revenue fell 8% organically to 5.94 billion euros in the first quarter.

It reported a 15% revenue drop in North America, the weakest amongst all of its geographies.

"North America, which is about half of Randstad's digital business, has been under pressure," the CEO said. The region is focused on technology, financial services and life sciences, which have not been hiring as many people, he added.

Business was better in southern Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, van't Noordende said.

($1 = 0.9388 euros)

Reporting by Shivani Tanna in Bengaluru; editing by Milla Nissi, Jason Neely and David Evans


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