Staffing Firm Sells Off Non-Core Division

February 6, 2008
Hudson Highland Group has sold its energy and engineering staffing business to System One Holdings for $16 million.

The sale on Monday, February 4—$11 million in cash and $5 million in five-year notes—is part of Hudson’s strategy to shed non-core business divisions to focus on staffing high-skilled professionals in legal, IT, accounting and finance.

“The company has changed significantly,” says David Kirby, director of investor relations at the New York-based temporary staffing agency. “We are getting out of industrial, blue-collar staffing and concentrating on lines of business that offer wider margins.”

The company has made several divestitures during the last 15 months, including the fourth-quarter sale of its Dutch reintegration subsidiary, Hudson Human Capital Solutions, and its Australian Trade and Industrial business.

Hudson’s energy and engineering staffing subsidiary does not typically reflect low-skilled staffing, but was sold because it is not as profitable as divisions like legal and IT talent placement, Kirby explains.

Hudson’s strategy—along with its heavy international presence—could be paying off for the company, says Barry Asin, executive vice president and chief analyst at Staffing Industry Analysts, a consultancy in Los Altos, California.

Hudson offered a preview of its fourth-quarter earnings Monday, revealing the company had generated revenue of $290.5 million to beat Wall Street expectations. The company also announced plans to repurchase some $15 million in common stock.

“We are confident about the future of the company,” Kirby says. The figures officially will be released during a conference call Thursday, February 7.

“This performance is reflective of Hudson’s decision to concentrate on the high-end staffing market,” Asin says. “IT, accounting and legal are not feeling economic pressures as much as industrial or manufacturing sectors.”

Another factor contributing to Hudson’s relative stability is its international diversity, says Timothy McHugh, equity research analyst at William Blair & Co. in Chicago. About 70 percent of Hudson’s business is derived from overseas operations, according to Kirby. Europe and the Asia-Pacific region are the company’s largest and second-largest markets, respectively. The U.S. is third.

“The growth in Europe and Asia is still going strong,” McHugh notes.

Hudson’s fourth-quarter results may have beaten predictions, but the company’s stock has slipped during the last six months. It closed at $6.89 on Tuesday—significantly lower than its 52-week high of $22.77.

McHugh says Hudson’s declining stock price is not a reflection of what is occurring internally, but rather it’s a function of how Wall Street reacts to businesses that are in cyclical sectors. Some of Hudson’s competitors are experiencing similar lackluster stock performance.

Staffing firm Manpower’s stock closed at $55.13 on Tuesday, off from its 52-week high of $97.28, while Adecco finished at $55.15 following a 52-week high of $98.40.

“Investors are reacting to past trends,” McHugh says. “They know that staffing gets pummeled during a recession.”

—Gina Ruiz