GLOBAL - Pension consulting firm Hewitt Associates says it foresees a "difficult environment" in the next fiscal year, despite swinging to a profit in the fourth-quarter from a loss a year before.

"We expect a difficult environment in fiscal 2009, but we are fortunate to have taken actions in the past year to streamline our cost structure and obtain significant incremental financing to add to our already strong financial position," said chief executive Russ Fradin.

"Our strategies and plans are intended to deliver solid revenue and profit growth in 2009 as we continue to meet our clients' needs during this period of significant change and disruption."

The comments came as the company reported an overall net income of $31.5m (€24.8m) in the period, against a $175.1m loss before. Total revenues were up 7.3% at $824.5m.

"During the quarter we saw healthy revenue momentum and exceeded our profit expectations while absorbing some key investment costs," Frading said. "I am please that we were able to do this in the face of such unprecedented economic turmoil"

Consulting segment revenues increased 16% over the prior year period to $295.8m, with income up 11.2% at $49.35m. It said: "Growth resulted principally from strength in retirement and financial management services in addition to talent and organisation consulting services."