UPDATE 1-Robert Walters sees annual profit ahead of estimates on signs of hiring pick-up

(Adds details, background, CEO quote)

Jan 12 (Reuters) - Robert Walters said on Tuesday its annual profit would top the market consensus on an improvement in its largest market, Asia Pacific, even as the British recruiter posted a 24% plunge in fourth-quarter net fees.

“It is important to note that the volatile nature of the pandemic means our forward visibility remains limited evidenced by a number of countries recently returning to versions of the lockdown,” Robert Walters, chief executive of the eponymous company said.

Recruiters around the globe were hammered by hiring freezes at the start of the pandemic, forcing them to cut costs to weather the storm. Making matters worse, many countries have started going into fresh lockdowns as they deal with a new variant of the virus.

The company, which operates in more than 30 countries, said its net fee income fell to 71.4 million pounds ($96.75 million) for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 from 94.2 million pounds a year earlier.

After scrapping its dividend earlier in 2020 as a contingency measure, the company said in October that it would make an interim payment of 4.5 pence per share.

$1 = 0.7380 pounds Reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips