UPDATE 1-Staffing group Randstad posts slight Q1 earnings beat

(Adds CEO comment, detail)

AMSTERDAM, April 21 (Reuters) - Global staffing group Randstad on Wednesday reported first-quarter core earnings of 202 million euros ($243 million), slightly beating forecasts, as business returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Analysts polled by the company had on average expected earnings before interest, taxes and amortisation (EBITA) of 191 million euros on sales of 5.44 billion euros.

Sales in the three months through March rose marginally to 5.53 billion euros, with a strong pick-up at the tail end of the quarter, Randstad said. Its EBITA margin rose to 3.7% from 3% in the same quarter a year earlier.

Revenue in March neared 2019 levels with strong hiring in the United States, Europe and Asia, CEO Jacques van den Broek said in an interview.

“We are growing everywhere, with the only exception in Iberia,” Van den Broek said. “We are getting closer to 2019 as we speak, so we are very close to pre-pandemic levels.”

The company took on 1,000 new hires in the latest quarter, with strong demand for staff in e-commerce, education and health sectors, he said.

“We are optimistic for the rest of the year. When we see more people getting vaccinated, the more broad-based demand will be,” he said.

Volume in April was approaching 2019 levels and the company said it expects operating expenses will rise by low- or mid- single digits in the second quarter.

In some countries, including the Netherlands and the United States, Van den Broek said there were emerging shortages of some skilled workers. “So the old, pre-pandemic themes are back.”

$1 = 0.8314 euros Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by Jacqueline Wong and Jason Neely