In 2021, net sales rose by 20% to €20.0 billion (2020: €16.7 billion), growth supported by a partial recovery in the markets and the acquisition of Kiwa. All Groups made a positive contribution to sales, although Makro’s share was offset by the divestment of Makro Peru at the end of 2020. The negative impact of adjustments for foreign currency translation totalled €351 million, resulting in an adjusted growth of 22% - mostly driven by the devaluation of the Turkish lira and the Argentinian peso.
Net income doubled in 2021 to €979 million (2020: €488 million) with bottom-line growth driven by successful exits at NPM Capital (including deals delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic); a stronger oil and gas market that boosted results for both SHV Energy and ONE-Dyas; a recovery in sales for Mammoet and ERIKS; and stricter cost controls across all Groups.
Income from operations fell to €525 million (2020: €602 million) mostly due to a lower income of €66 million from exceptional items (2020: €214 million). However, excluding exceptional items, adjusted income from operations grew in 2021, totalling €459 million (2020: €388 million) thanks to the improvement in operational performance by SHV Energy, Mammoet, and ERIKS, as well as the addition of the newly-acquired Kiwa.
Overall operational performance in 2021 showed a growth in both sales and net income. SHV Energy benefited from the fast recovery in the oil and gas market, a well-positioned hedge portfolio, and active cost management. Mammoet and ERIKS also profited from post-lockdown recoveries and made good progress with their strategic agendas, including tighter cost controls and enhanced operational efficiency. Nutreco managed to record higher volumes, although margins were squeezed by stretched supply chains and rising raw material costs. The negative outcome of a tax case in Spain also impacted net income. Makro continued to feel the effects of COVID-19 restrictions as well as intensifying competition in the market, with 2021 sales lower than expected. The sale of stores in Brazil, however, made a positive contribution to net income. NPM Capital took advantage of high valuations in the market to make a number of successful exits. And finally, the acquisition of Kiwa delivered additional growth in sales on the back of a positive operational performance trend - especially in the European markets.
The 2021 effective tax rate remained stable at 21.4%. The effective income tax impact for this year mainly relates to higher non-taxable capital gains and dividends realised by NPM Capital, offset by non-recoverable withholding tax charges and higher taxes on income from investments in affiliates related to the result of ONE-Dyas.
Operational cash flow remained stable at €1,060 million (2020: €1,063 million). Investment cash flow grew to €1,292 million (2020: €701 million) thanks to acquisitions and an increase in replacement investments, following a more conservative 2020. After reducing working capital in 2020 to preserve cash, 2021 saw an increase of €323 million driven mostly by higher receivables from SHV Energy and Mammoet, an increase in inventories at SHV Energy, and the inclusion of Kiwa.
A total of €762 million was invested in tangible fixed assets during 2021, channelled mainly into gas cylinders & tanks, and installations at SHV Energy as well as product lines and equipment at Nutreco and Mammoet. The Groups also made several investments to accelerate growth and strengthen market positions. These include, amongst others SunSource Energy and United Propane at SHV Energy; Bigsal and Nutrimin at Nutreco and Intega at Kiwa. NPM Capital invested in Infinitas Learning, an educational publishing company; ICT Group, an industrial technology and service provider; and Kubo, specialised in greenhouse projects.
The year closed with Group equity growing to €6.5 billion (2020: €6.4 billion), which includes a negative FX effect of €142 million when converting local currency equity to euros. Total liquidity levels remained strong at €1.1 billion, while net debt increased to €1.4 billion to fund acquisitions. Overall return on shareholder equity rose to 15% from 8% in 2020.
Investing in the future