Recruitment giant Robert Walters has seen shares come under pressure after it warned the coronavirus outbreak is likely to impact 2020 profits.
The group – which operates worldwide – said the spread of the virus is adding further uncertainty to an “unpredictable” global recruitment market.
Shares fell 9% on both the warning and as the group reported 2019 pre-tax profits of £47.4 million – down 6% on a constant currency basis.
The outbreak follows a difficult last year for the group amid Brexit and election uncertainty in the UK, political protests in Hong Kong and global economic worries caused by the US-China trade war.
In the UK – which accounts for around 24% of group net fee income – underlying earnings fell 7% to £11.5 million after net fee income dropped 9% to £98.4 million
Founder and chief executive Robert Walters said: “The global recruitment market remains unpredictable at present with the coronavirus outbreak, which is likely to negatively impact full-year profit expectations, adding a further layer of uncertainty.
“We will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and update the market as appropriate.”
Robert Walters makes more than 40% of its group net fee income from the Asia Pacific region.
The Asia Pacific business grew underlying earnings by 7% to £22.6 million last year despite a significant hit to Hong Kong due to the political protests.
Overall group-wide net fee income lifted 2% to £405.5 million.
“2019 was a year of unprecedented political and economic turbulence fuelled by the US-China trade war, Brexit, protests in Hong Kong and Gilets-Jaunes disruption in France,” said Mr Walters.
Analysts at Liberum said they expected Robert Walters’ full-year profit expectations to be cut by around £2 million or 15% after the group’s likely coronavirus hit.