By Arathy S Nair
(Reuters) - British recruitment company Hays Plc <HAYS.L> plans to raise returns to shareholders significantly after its fourth-quarter net fees beat market expectations on the back of double-figure growth in Germany and Australia.
The company also indicated operating profit would top current market consensus of 241 million pounds ($317 million) in its financial year to June 30, 2018. Its shares rose more than 6 percent in morning trade, leading the gainers on London's FTSE 250 midcap index <.FTMC>.
Like other British recruiters, Hays has benefited from growth in its international business, while uncertainty over Britain's planned departure from the European Union forced it to keep a tight lid on costs at home.
The company posted net fees growth of 15 percent on a like-for-like basis in the fourth quarter to the end of June, exceeding a consensus of 12 percent. Its net cash position grew to 123 million pounds from just 5 million at the end of March.
"We had record quarterly net fees.. and strong cash performance," finance director Paul Venables told Reuters.
"Investors can expect a significant special dividend and an increase in core (dividend)."
Brokerage Jefferies said year end cash collection was consistent with a 5 pence special dividend in addition to a final payout of about 2.5 pence, which will appeal to investors.
Hays will publish its detailed results for the year to the end of June on Aug. 30.
Recruiters are a barometer of the pressures on job markets from the Brexit process, which threatens to drive home some of the hundreds of thousands of European workers who have come to Britain over the past decade or so.
Hays is largely focused on white collar roles rather than the factory, farming and catering sectors where some British firms have reported waning numbers of Eastern European workers.
The company said its UK business had seen a modest improvement, but overall growth in the UK and Ireland was just 5 percent, compared to double digit rises in all of its other markets.
That improvement also included a 12 percent rise in public sector hiring, while that in the private sector grew just 3 percent. Consultant headcount in UK and Ireland fell 2 percent in the quarter to June 30.
Rival Pagegroup <PAGE.L> , which posted a 16 percent rise in second-quarter gross profit, said this week that UK market sentiment remained cautious. Another smaller peer, Robert Walters <RWA.L>, posted a 16 percent rise in net fee income.
"We continue to invest significantly in key growth markets where we see structural and market share opportunities, notably Germany, France and the USA," the company said.
Germany is now its largest market, accounting for 25 percent of fees, just ahead of Britain and Ireland.
Hays, which places workers across 20 sectors from finance to construction, said net fees in Germany grew 16 percent on a like-for-like basis. They rose 14 percent in Australia and New Zealand.
(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri/Keith Weir)