The operating profit at the EBITDA level last year declined by 9.1% to EUR2,820m on a turnover 6.5% lower at EUR13,658m, before adjusting for exchange rates and changes to the sphere of consolidation. The 9.3% fall in the trading profit (EBIT) to EUR1,934m becomes a 6.9% increase when adjusting for movements in exchange rates and changes to the corporate structure. The net interest charge fell by 12.5% to EUR505m to give a running profit before tax 8.1% lower at EUR1,429m. Helped by asset disposals and a rights issue, net debt at the end of the period was 30.9% lower at EUR7,061m to give a gearing level of 69.2% compared with 113.3% at the end of 2002. Another factor in reducing the debt came from lower capital expenditure, which fell by 24.8% to EUR864m. Although the official pre-tax profit shows a 14.3% increase to EUR1488m, this includes capital gains of EUR299m and sharply lower exceptional charges as well as a negative swing in the effects of exchange rate movements.
The cement operations generated a trading profit 8.7% lower at EUR1466m, which represented 75.8% of the group total compared with just 46.7% of the group turnover. As previously reported, global cement deliveries increased by 2.2% to 108Mt. Currency movements reduced the cement trading profit by EUR149m and higher operating costs by a further EUR168m while disposals reduced the amount by EUR48m. On the positive side, the profit figure was boosted by stronger volumes to the tune of EUR129m and better average prices provided a EUR96m boost.