* The company sees steady improvements in early 2021
* CFO sees further recovery when restrictions are lifted
* First quarter earnings tend to be flat
* The company continues its 600 million euro share buyback (Update with share prices, analyst and executive comments)
ZURICH, February 25 (Reuters) – Adecco Group sees a steady recovery in the labor market and does not expect the increase to be thwarted by the latest COVID-19 restrictions across Europe, the Swiss employment firm said on Thursday.
Adecco said many entrepreneurs have learned to overcome social distancing rules and other restrictions, while it is hoped that measures to tackle the latest COVID-19 spike will subside.
The company, whose operations help signal the health of the broader economy, said earnings in January and February were close to returning to pre-crisis levels helped by increased hiring in fast-growing areas such as e-commerce and logistics.
“The risk of pulling back is limited,” Chief Financial Officer Coram Williams told Reuters. “We are clearly at a point where the restrictions have become the strictest and the volume is resilient. We should see further restoration and improvement but only if those restrictions are actually lifted. “
Switzerland on Wednesday said it would ease restrictions starting March 1 and Britain has laid out plans to ease the measures, although shops, restaurants and schools remain closed in many European countries.
In January and February, Adecco’s revenue decreased 2% compared to the previous year, an upward trend from a 5% decline in the fourth quarter and a 15% decline in the third quarter.
“We are a good barometer of the economy and we are close to pre-crisis levels if you look at our earnings,” Williams said.
Adecco’s new confidence echoes rivals Randstad and ManpowerGroup who both say they are seeing a steady increase in hiring.
During the fourth quarter, Adecco’s revenue fell to 5.41 billion euros ($ 6.59 billion), beating estimates of 5.27 billion euros in the consensus views of analysts compiled by the company.
Fourth-quarter net profit of 149 million euros beat estimates of 116 million euros. Shares were up 1.6% in early trading.
Williams said Adecco is expected to post revenue growth during the second quarter of this year after a 28% drop in the COVID-hit second quarter of 2020.
Earnings will likely be flat in the first quarter with “little chance of growth,” Williams said.
The company proposed a 2020 dividend of 2.50 Swiss francs, the same rate as 2019, and said it would continue the 600 million euro share buyback scheme that was halted at the start of the crisis.
$ 1 = 0.8214 euros Reported by John Revill; Edited by Michael Shields and Edmund Blair