Recruitment firm achieved Hays PLC (LON:HAS) hiked its ordinary and special dividends by 18% as it delivered growth in annual gross profit across all its markets despite weaker business confidence in the UK.
Net fees – a measure of recruiters’ gross profit – rose to £1.07bn in the year to June 30 from £954.6bn a year ago, driven by a strong performance in international businesses.
Brexit uncertainty has seen UK employers take a more cautious approach to hiring but Hays still achieved a like-for-like gain of 2% in net fees as rises in private sector job placements in IT, construction, property and office support offset a decline in public sector placements such as education.
Hays said the UK market remained "uncertain but stable overall".
Germany continued to be the star performer for Hays, with record like-for-like net fee growth of 16%. The Australia and New Zealand division saw net fees rise 14% on a like-for-like basis while the rest of the world unit posted a 17% increase.
The group’s profit before tax edged up 17% to £238.5mln from £204.6mln last year.
Hays raised its core dividend per share to 3.81p from 3.22p and lifted its special dividend to 5.0p per share from 4.25p as it ended the year with net cash of £122.9mln, up from £111.6mln last year.
Hays invests in key growth markets
Looking ahead, chief executive Alistair Cox said conditions remain positive in “virtually all of our markets”.
"We are investing significantly in key growth markets where we see structural and market share opportunities, notably Germany, France and the USA," he said.
"We continue to build on our scale and diversity and are focused on driving profitable, cash-generative growth. The sheer scale and diversity of our global platform combined with our highly experienced management teams means we are well-positioned to capitalise on the growth opportunities identified in our 2022 plan."
But shares fell 4.7% to 193.3p in morning trading amid concerns about the UK jobs market.
Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said: "The question hanging over the UK business is just what happens to the economy and the recruitment market after Brexit with a potential loss of supply as well as demand, as well as whether any business uncertainty that delays investment starts to feed through over the coming years to hiring and contract work, particularly around govt contracts. But for now things are looking solid enough."