Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board decided that it would be appropriate to maintain the 2019 final dividend and declare an interim dividend for 2020, prudently at the same level as in 2019. The continuation of dividend payments during 2020 reflected the financial strength of the Group, its significant liquidity position and the longer term confidence in the performance of the business.
The Board continues to recognise the importance of returns to shareholders. Keller has consistently increased or maintained its dividend over the 26 years since first listing on the London Stock Exchange. The Board is recommending the payment of a 2020 final dividend of 23.3p per share (2019: 23.3p per share) to be paid on 25 June 2021 to shareholders on the register as at the close of business on 3 June 2021.
Other financial highlights include:
Underlying operating profit, cash generation and earnings per share all ahead of market expectations
Revenue down 10% to £2,062.5m, driven by the impact of COVID-19 and the exit of non-core business activities
Underlying operating profit of £110.1m, an increase of 6%, driven by a strong first quarter, a resilient second half, particularly in North America, and a full year of profitability in APAC. Underlying operating margin increased to 5.3% (2019: 4.5%)
Strong cash performance with free cash flow up 41% to £134.2m (2019: £94.9m)
Net debt (on a bank covenant IAS 17 basis) reduced by 43% to £120.9m, equating to net debt / EBITDA leverage ratio of 0.7x
Good COVID-19 safety performance and further progress in operational safety evidenced by a 20% improvement in overall accident frequency rate (AFR)
Significant strategic progress made with the implementation of all the actions set out a year ago, despite the impact of COVID-19, transforming the Group into a more focused, higher-quality business
Whilst the order book remains c£1bn, the expectations for a reduced trading performance in 2021 are unchanged given the previously indicated softening in the order intake, late cycle nature of their business and continuing macro uncertainty