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Recruiter Robert Walters' shares slide on profit warning

By Radhika Anilkumar

(Reuters) - Recruiter Robert Walters expects its 2022 full-year profit to have fallen slightly short of market expectations, the company warned on Tuesday, sending its shares plunging.

After initially benefiting from a post-pandemic market driven by staff shortages, recruiters have been held back more recently by employer caution on hiring plans because of fears over potential recession.

Shares in Robert Walters, which specialises in the legal, accountancy and technology sectors across 30 countries, fell as much as 9%, while rivals PageGroup and Hays were down about 6% and 5% respectively.

"The global macroeconomic backdrop became increasingly uncertain as the (fourth) quarter progressed, resulting in a softening of recruitment activity levels across many of the group's markets," Chief Executive Robert Walters said.

Annual profit is expected to hit a record high, though not quite achieving market expectations, he added.

Analysts expect pretax profit of 59.2 million pounds ($72 million) for the year to Dec. 31, according to a consensus forecast provided by the company.

Finance chief Alan Bannatyne said the company, which counts Amazon and Netflix as clients, suffered a slowdown in hiring for permanent roles in the U.S. technology sector.

Asia Pacific, the company's biggest market, achieved slower growth in net fee income than other regions in the fourth quarter, primarily because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in mainland China, the company said.

Fourth-quarter net income fee rose 11% despite a 24% fall in mainland China.

Hays, PageGroup and SThree also flagged slower trading towards the end of last year, citing economic uncertainties in the face of surging inflation.

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar and Amna Karimi in Bengaluru; Editing by Uttaresh.V and David Goodman)