Bekaert achieved a new performance milestone in 2021, despite the turbulence of the pandemic.
We achieved strong sales and improved profitability across all our businesses thanks to business-mix improvements, footprint adjustments, and organizational efficiencies.
Importantly, we progressed in our strategic transformation to make Bekaert a stronger, more agile, and higher value-creating organization. The progress enabled us to leverage our global presence and local services to respond to customer demands whilst providing solutions to shortages of labor, materials, energy, and logistics.
From a financial perspective, we reached new levels of performance across our key metrics. Sales increased by 28% to a record level of € 4.8 billion in 2021 and underlying EBIT increased by 89% to € 515 million. The net result for the period was € 451 million with EPS of € 7.14. Effective working capital management and solid cash generation resulted in further deleveraging with net debt on underlying EBITDA decreasing to 0.61 at year-end 2021.
Based on these strong results, we are pleased to announce that the Board of Directors will propose to the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders in May of 2022 a gross dividend of € 1.50 per share, representing an increase of 50% versus the previous year. In addition, the Board has approved a share buyback program for Bekaert to repurchase and cancel outstanding shares up to € 120 million, over a period up to twelve months.
Moving forward, we are determined to continue achieving new milestones. We are considering additional opportunities to further grow and improve our business. Our goal is to accelerate growth in promising markets, both within our core technologies and beyond steel. We are increasing our resources in innovation and digitalization, so we can better serve our customers.
We have established an ambitious sustainability strategy, with targets and action plans to accelerate our sustainability performance. We are convinced that our plans will continue to create significant value for all our stakeholders.
The strong performance we delivered in 2021 and our determination to further enhance value growth in target markets, make us confident about our ability to deliver on our strategic priorities. Given the uncertainties and instability facing the world today, the visibility on 2022 market evolutions is limited. We do, however, confirm our ambition to reach the mid-term targets (2022-2026) of organic sales growth of 3%+ CAGR and an underlying EBIT margin level of 9% to 11% through the cycle.
Our teams worked tirelessly around the world to ensure the safety of our employees and the business continuity of our customers, thus contributing to the strong achievements of 2021. Furthermore, the actions and initiatives they are taking today in offering help to people from Ukraine through various humanitarian programs and in mitigating the impact of the crisis on our business, are highly appreciated. We would like to thank our management and teams for their contribution, energy, and above and beyond spirit.
We are grateful to our customers, business partners, and shareholders for their continued trust and support.
|Oswald Schmid, CEO||Jürgen Tinggren, Chairman of the Board of Directors|