Hays operating profit up 17%
Continental Europe & the rest of world saw good net fee growth of 9% and excellent operating profit growth of 18%. There was good growth in key businesses with net fees in Germany up 6% France and Canada are both up 10%. 16 countries delivered net fee growth of 10% or more, including Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and US. Consultant headcount is up 9%, as Hays invested on a targeted basis to support growth opportunities. The company had a strong cash performance, with 116% conversion of operating profit into operating cash flow, and net debt reduced by £32m to £31m despite the £36m spend in relation to the acquisition of Veredus in the US. There was strong growth in EPS of 21%, reflecting strong operating profit performance and lower effective tax rate. Full year dividend increased 5%, in line with the company's strategy to build full year cover towards 3.0x earnings.
Commenting on the results Alistair Cox, chief executive, said, "This is another strong financial performance as we delivered excellent 25%(1) operating profit growth and further increased our sector leading conversion rate. All three divisions delivered good growth and we are on schedule to deliver our five-year aspiration to broadly double the Group's operating profits by 2018, despite the material negative impact of foreign exchange movements.
"In the UK we delivered excellent profit leverage and strong fee growth across all regions. Our Australia business returned to growth, driven by Perm, though the mining-focused regions remained tough. In Germany, our trading performance was good and around the rest of the Group, we continued to deliver good broad-based growth as 21 countries delivered net fee growth of 10% or more.
"We have made further significant strategic and operational progress this year, building on the existing strength of our business globally. We acquired Veredus in the US, giving us a significant platform from which to build a large business in the world's biggest recruitment market, and continued the rollout of our contractor model.
"We enter our new year in a position of strength, with unrivalled breadth, scale and balance around the world and the best people and technology tools in our industry. We see many clear opportunities to grow further and are focused on capturing these while simultaneously driving profits and cash generation along the way. That combination of delivering short-term results and investing to capitalise on long-term opportunity is unique in our industry today."