UPDATE 1-Recruiter PageGroup says unable to give 2021 outlook as profit slumps

(Adds details, background on sector’s performance during COVID-19)

Jan 13 (Reuters) - Recruiter PageGroup on Wednesday said it was unable to provide financial outlook for 2021 and future years, after posting a 20% drop in fourth-quarter profit hit by a coronovirus-led hiring slump, mainly in the United States and the UK.

Gross profit in the quarter ended Dec. 31 fell to 165.4 million pounds ($226.22 million), with the UK and the United States down by 34% and 31%, respectively.

“As we enter 2021, there remains a high degree of global macro-economic uncertainty in many of our markets,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Ingham said in a statement.

The company, however, added that Mainland China and Japanese markets grew in December, a day after rival Robert Walters forecast annual profit beating estimates buoyed by an improvement in the Asia-Pacific region.

PageGroup, which had shed over 1,000 of its staff through last year, said that fee earner headcount fell by 15% over the course of the year, but added that the ratio of fee-earners to non-fee earning staff remained the same.

Most global recruiters have been hit by a hiring slowdown since the outbreak of the pandemic, forcing them to manage costs to withstand the blow. Apart from layoffs, PageGroup had also cut its directors’ pay and scrapped dividends in response to the downturn.

The company, which operates in 36 countries and helps hire executives, professionals and clerical staff, also added conditions in the UK remained challenging with regional lockdowns imposed during the quarter and Brexit related uncertainty weighing on the sector last month.

$1 = 0.7312 pounds Reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich