The operational result (EBIT) increased by 9% to CHF 382 million. Both GF Piping Systems and GF Machining Solutions are the drivers of this increase. The return on sales (ROS) stood at 8.4%, (2017: 8.5%), well in line with our 8-9% objective range. The return on invested capital (ROIC) further increased to 22.4%, compared to 20.3% in 2017, marginally surpassing our 18-22% objective range.
The number of employees at year end decreased to 15'027, compared to 15'835 per end of 2017 as a consequence of the divestments of two iron foundries at GF Casting Solutions, whereas the acquisition of Precicast Industrial Holding SA (Switzerland) in April 2018 added 812 employees to the Corporation.
GF achieved a net profit after minorities of CHF 281 million, an increase of 12% compared to 2017 and a free cash flow before acquisitions of CHF 147 million (previous year CHF 204 million), basically at the lower end of GF's target range of CHF 150-200 million.
Earnings per share reached CHF 69, compared to CHF 62 in 2017. In view of the positive financial development in 2018, the Board of Directors will propose at the upcoming Annual Shareholders' Meeting an increased dividend of CHF 25 a share, up from CHF 23 in the previous year.