Nevertheless, the resulting impact on the company’s performance was more than compensated through effective countermeasures.
Thus the operating result nearly remained on the same level, the group result and the financial strength were considerable improved. Therefore a significant dividend increase will be proposed at the shareholders’ annual meeting.
A 20 % sales increase to € 2.5 billion was recorded. This was mainly due to the successful development of the sales and trading activities in the core markets Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Italy and France.
Due to the extremely dry weather - the water availability of the Austrian rivers was 13 % below the longtime average and 24 percentage points lower than in the preceding year - less cost-effective hydro power was available for sale. The resulting burden on the operating result in the amount of € 47 million was successfully compensated by comprehensive countermeasures. The operating result was maintained almost at the same level by making use of the rising European wholesale prices, successful development of the international sales and trading activities and continued restructuring; it fell only slightly, by 3 %, to € 322 million.
The group result, by contrast, was improved by 29 % to an all-time high of € 200 million through considerable reduction of debt - in 2003 approximately € 550 million were repaid -, and the favorable development of exchange rates. This is equivalent to a € 5.03 increase in earnings per share to € 6.51.
The control-relevant ratios were also clearly improved. At 161 % the net gearing was clearly below the average of the European competitors for the first time since electricity market liberalization. The operative cash flow was improved by 30 % to € 410 million, and the free cash flow - the amount available for investments, debt repayment and payment of dividends - by 63 % to € 482 million. Thus the financial strength of the group was further enhanced.
On the basis of the excellent results the managing board is going to propose to annual general meeting a 43 % dividend increase to € 2.00 per share, including a € 0.20 bonus. This will be the third dividend increase in a row.