Hays (HAS) finance officer Paul Venables is remaining tight-lipped about the recruiters' UK trading performance since the country's vote to leave the EU.

Venables said in an interview with Shares it remains too early to determine the impact of the vote on the roughly one-third of its net fee income (NFI) generated in the UK.

'I've been in this job for 10 years and I've seen some good times and some bad times,' said Venables, speaking after a trading update published today.

'We would never talk to one or two weeks of trading data [since the referendum] because it would be completely unreliable.

'In September we will talk to what happened in July and August but even then I think you'll need a period of time, one to two years, before you can look back and understand what really happened.

'We are bound to have a period where companies are more cautious and we will need time to get some perspective.

'We wouldn't draw conclusions from a few hours' worth of data and nor will we from a couple of weeks'.'

Venables added performance in Hays' fourth quarter, the three months to 30 June, were 'the most uniform set of results I can remember in my 10 years since joining the company', despite concern over a slowing global economy.

'We've delivered fee growth of 8%, consultant productivity growth of 5% and that means we've upgraded our profit expectations to the top end of the range for the year to 30 June,' said Venables.

'After several years of net debt, it is the first time in my 10 years that we have a net cash balance sheet, that's cash in the bank of £40 million at the year-end.

'And our top 10 shareholders have bought an additional 50 million shares in the last two weeks, so those investors that know us well have increased their stakes, which is great.'

Hays' plan is to start distributing 100% of its earnings to shareholders via a special dividend programme after its net cash balance exceeds £50 million. Net cash hit £40 million at its 30 June year-end.

More than two-thirds of Hays' business is outside the UK, which helped it deliver net fee income growth, a key measure of performance, of 5% on an underlying basis and 8% on a reported basis in the three months to 30 June.

Operating profit for the full year is expected at £180 million, slightly ahead of consensus analyst expectations of £177 million.

Europe, excluding the UK, which is almost half of Hays' business, grew 21% at constant currencies driven by strong performance in Germany.

Temporary recruitment NFI in the country grew 21% and permanent hiring NFI surged 34%.

In the UK, which represents 31% of Hays' business, NFI fell 4%, driven mainly by a drop-off in temporary rather than permanent hiring.

Venables said most of Hays' temporary contracts are in the public sector, which saw low activity in the period.

Asia-Pacific, at around a quarter of Hays' NFI, grew 4% thanks in part to an improvement in Australia's jobs market, a trend highlighted by other recruiters over the past couple of weeks. Hays' NFI in Australia and New Zealand gained 6%.

Shares in Hays are up 4.2% to 113p.

Issue Date: 14 Jul 2016