The three-month period saw a 70 per cent jump in warnings – the highest quarterly rise since early 2001.
Quoted companies issued 88 profit warnings last quarter, up 51 on the previous three-month period.
Those 88 took 2011’s total to 278, compared with 196 in 2010.
Companies in the general retail sector were worst hit, issuing 39 warnings last year – more than the whole of 2009 and 2010 combined.
Ernst and Young believes the weak economic outlook means the trend will continue into this year – firms like Tesco have already issued profit warnings this month.