(Adds details on outlook, CFO comment)
AMSTERDAM, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The chief financial officer of Randstad, the world's second-largest staffing company, on Tuesday said a slide in major European markets seen late last year had stabilised at the beginning of 2019.
The Dutch company, which trails Swiss rival Adecco, earlier reported a 1 percent rise in fourth-quarter underlying earnings, slightly ahead of analysts' estimates, but said it expects its gross margin to be modestly lower in the first quarter.
Group revenue in the last three months of 2018 was hit by industrial heavyweights Germany and France, where sales fell 4 and 7 percent respectively, chief financial officer Henry Schirmer said in an interview.
"We definitely see in Germany, France a big impact from automotive," he said. "Manufacturing overall has come down and that's the same in Spain and Italy. That's stabilising now, at least in January."
In the United States, where Randstad operates the Monster jobs site, sales rose 3 percent.
Overall, fourth quarter sales rose 0.3 percent to 6.1 billion euros, meeting forecasts.
"In January 2019, revenue increased at a similar pace. The development of volumes in early February indicates a continuation of the January growth trend," Randstad said in its outlook.
The group posted fourth-quarter underlying earnings of 309 million euros ($348.55 million), compared with 305 million euros a year earlier. Analysts polled by the company had expected earnings before interest, taxation and amortisation (EBITA) of 305 million euros.
$1 = 0.8865 euros Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu, Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Kirsten Donovan