(Adds CFO comments, details)
AMSTERDAM, April 24 (Reuters) - Netherlands-based Randstad , which competes with Switzerland's Adecco to be the largest global staffing company, posted better-than-expected first quarter earnings on Wednesday, citing stabilising European markets and growth in North America.
Randstad said its underlying earnings before interest, taxation and amortisation (EBITA) rose 2 percent to 227 million euros ($255 million) in the first three months of the year.
Analysts polled by the company had on average expected EBITA of 207 million euros, down from 217 a year earlier.
Hiring trends at staffing companies are closely watched for signs of broader economic impact, as companies tend to take on fewer staff when they feel less confident about growth.
The fourth quarter of last year saw a sharp downturn in business, with the U.S.-China trade conflict and Britain's planned departure from the European Union casting a shadow on global growth.
"Overall economic growth has come down, but has stabilised on a lower level," Chief Financial Officer Henry Schirmer said in an interview. "People are staying cautious in the current climate."
Randstad's latest sales were nearly flat at 5.7 billion euros in the quarter, with a 10 percent fall in key market Germany. That was partly offset by growth in the United States and stabilising markets elsewhere in Europe.
Randstad said that, based on April figures, it expected its current sales growth trend of about 0.5 percent to continue with slightly higher gross margins in the second quarter. Germany remains a concern, Schirmer said: "We are winning market share compared to our competitors, but Germany is still pretty hard hit."
$1 = 0.8917 euros Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Rashmi Aich