We had many high points during the 2017 financial year, as well as some lows. The acquisition of Bilfinger Hochbau at the start of the year significantly strengthened our position in Europe’s largest construction services market and gave our business a broader regional base. Various large-scale infrastructure projects gathered momentum, one of them being the two sections of the “Grand Paris Express” mega project, which are furthering the Group’s project-based drive for internationalisation. Less pleasing were the risk adjustments we had to make in the first half of the year. We were all deeply affected by the tragic loss of our CEO in Norway. The unqualified positive news is that we achieved a good operational and financial performance in our core business. This was underlined by strong momentum in the second half of the year and, in particular, by record-high free cash flow. A large, good quality order backlog and robust markets reinforce our positive outlook for the future.
The acquisition of Bilfinger Hochbau in spring 2017 expanded Implenia’s offering in the German market, and at a stroke gave us a significant market position. This marks an important strategic step on the way to greater internationalisation. Our activities outside Switzerland have given us a broader basis for sustainable, profitable growth.
We strengthened our order books through both acquisitions and organic growth in 2017. The Segments Switzerland and International in particular enjoyed good momentum, allowing us to report a new record level of orders at the end of the year. Even more important than the quantitative growth is the fact that our order book is of high quality.
We significantly improved our profitability during the period under review. EBITDA, the most important benchmark of operational performance, rose to a new record figure of CHF 173.8 million. This represents a 4.6 percent improvement on 2016. Business Unit EBIT (excl. PPA) stands at CHF 103.2 million, which is higher than our forecast for the year. If we excluded adjustments made in the first half-year to the Norwegian project portfolio, claims relating to the ongoing Letzigrund Stadium court case, and accelerated optimisation measures in Road Construction and Civil Works in German-speaking Switzerland, the Group would even have achieved EBIT of approximately CHF 140 million. All segments made a positive profit contribution. Project development business recorded an outstanding performance, while Business Unit Buildings and the major infrastructure projects also performed very well. Implenia’s consolidated profit (excl. PPA) for the 2017 financial year, including the adjustments made in the first half-year, was CHF 65.4 million.
At the beginning of the period under review, we discussed how to embed the whole issue of sustainability more broadly and firmly across the Group. Our Sustainability Workshop produced a series of concrete measures. One of these was “Chantier Marguerite”, a pilot project for sustainable construction site management. Its aim is to reduce energy consumption, air, noise, water and soil pollution, and waste. We used our great specialist expertise on the ground in Cambodia to give sustainable support to a social project run by “Smiling Gecko”. Our latest Sustainability Report, which will be published in summer 2018, will provide further details about other initiatives and about the goals we have achieved.
We continue to work hard on our digitalisation strategy, and kept a clear focus on digitalisation and operational excellence during the year under review. The money spent on these matters represents an important investment in the future. The process of digitalisation and the transformation it brings, will continue to occupy us and the whole construction industry.
As part of our management development programmes (“Winning Performance” and “Winning the Future”), we supported the personal development of our international middle and senior managers. We also work hard with our youngest employees: as at the end of the year, Implenia employed a total of 296 apprentices. We’re proud of this. In addition, we are working with ETH Zurich to develop expertise in engineering and construction; we sponsor an assistant professorship at the ETH’s Institute for Construction and Infrastructure Management.
Owing to the good underlying operating income achieved in 2017 and the excellent free cash flow situation, the Board of Directors is proposing to the Annual General Meeting of Implenia Ltd., held on 27 March 2018, that it approve a dividend of CHF 2.00 per share, the same level as in the previous year.
We are optimistic. Implenia has full, good quality order books, the markets are looking healthy and the company is well positioned. Foundations for good growth outside Switzerland have been laid. Implenia is confirming the new medium-term targets it announced in spring 2017: top-line volume of around CHF 5 billion and an EBITDA margin of between 5.25 percent and 5.75 percent.
We are very grateful to our employees for the work they have done and for our good results. Owing to their daily efforts, their knowledge and their dedication, Implenia takes a step forward each and every day. We would like to thank them very much for all they have done. But our success also depends on the confidence and trust of our customers and, not least, the loyalty shown by you, our valued shareholders. We very much want to continue working together on our success.
Hans Ulrich Meister