Economic bellwether recruiter Robert Walters’ shares sank today as it warned 2020 profit will miss expectations due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The recruitment agency’s shares fell seven per cent to 494p after the coronavirus profit warning compounded a dire 2019 filled with Brexit and economic uncertainties.
Profit before tax slipped three per cent to £47.4m last year, Robert Walters said today. Earnings per share fell four per cent as a result to 48.4p. And revenue dipped one per cent to £1.22bn.
The recruiter hailed a “resilient” performance as group net fee income climbed three per cent to a record £405.5m despite 2019’s challenges.
But investors sold out of the firm as it warned the coronavirus threat was a greater risk to the company than any recent economic headwind it has survived.
“We’ve been through downturns and banking crises and political uncertainty and trade wars,” chief executive Robert Walters told City A.M. “But nothing it quite like this incident, This is effecting everywhere in the world.”
In 2019, Robert Walters’ divisions outside the UK delivered 76 per cent of profit to offset the UK’s weak hiring market amid prolonged Brexit anxiety. France,the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain all delivered record levels of net fee income and Japan made up for Hong Kong protests causing turbulence in Asia.
But the coronavirus, which began in China, has spread around the globe to affect almost 70 countries.
“Coming on the back of some degree of turbulence last year, [coronavirus] is definitely impacting just about everything,” chief exec Walters added.
“We haven’t seen the worst of it yet.”
Walters said his recruitment staff around the world are prepared to work remotely to avoid catching the coronavirus strain. But he warned that hiring will suffer following numerous companies’ profit warnings over the coronavirus crisis.
Meanwhile, if countries encourage more remote working, key candidate meetings cannot happen.
“Meetings to discuss staffing requirements, that’s less likely to happen now,” Walters said. “Interviews can take place remotely but employers still need to meet the candidate.”