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Editorial by the Chairman of the Board of Directors
The unexpected outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of 2020 also impacted the 2021 financial year. Initial hopes arose during the second half of 2020 for an upcoming normalization of the situation, and the budgets for 2021 were accordingly planned with confidence. Unfortunately, the healthcare crisis continued in waves and to weigh on everyday life. In parallel, the general economic situation developed surprisingly strong.
The defining event with historical significance for our Group last year was the establishment of the SMG Swiss Marketplace Group. The merger of the TX Markets platforms Ricardo, tutti.ch, Homegate as well as Car For You with ImmoScout24, AutoScout24, MotoScout24, FinanceScout24 and anibis.ch has created a strong Swiss digital company. The shareholder base is made up of TX Group, Mobiliar and Ringier, as well as the globally active growth investor General Atlantic. To enable the entry of General Atlantic, TX Group sold 10 per cent of its share capital to it. With a 31 per cent stake, TX Group remains the largest single shareholder in the joint venture, aiming for an IPO in the medium term.
The partnership is the achievement of a long process and a major step for all parties involved. It offers a promising perspective for Switzerland as a business location in an increasingly competitive international market. The merger seeks to stimulate the growth of the digital marketplaces by increasing the relevance of its services for users as a key driver for its success. This will enable greater efficiency to be offered to business customers. Collectively, greater investment in product development is made possible, which in turn increases the company’s attractiveness as an employer.
The merger will result in a high book profit and a strong increase in total assets and cash and cash equivalents. As previously announced, the Board of Directors will propose a special dividend of 4.20 Swiss francs per share from this in 2022, 2023 and 2024.
With organic sales growth of 6 per cent, we can look back on the 2021 financial year with satisfaction. Above all, we can be proud of the performance of our employees and management. With our busy digital platforms and our traditional newspapers and magazines, they have contributed to the functioning of society and the well-being of the population in a difficult time. On behalf of the Board of Directors and the Group Management, I would like to take this opportunity to thank and express our appreciation to all our colleagues for their great commitment, for their quality awareness, and for their reliability!
I would also like to thank you, our shareholders, for your trust and your loyalty. After no dividend was paid for the crisis year 2020 and in context with the recovery of the operating business, the Board of Directors proposes the distribution of an ordinary dividend of 3.20 Swiss francs per share for the financial year 2021. This corresponds to around one-third of the free cash flow before the effects of business combinations and after dividends to minorities and, together with the special dividend, results in a total dividend of 7.40 Swiss francs per share.
After the eventful year 2021, our focus continues to be essential. In particular, we want to build up the newly established SMG and to further develop the Group. A spotlight is on our traditional activities, which are undergoing a process of transformation. We want to continue to address this with creativity and innovation. The changes offer us at least as many opportunities as they do challenges.
As we look into the future, journalism and quality in journalism remain our concern. The transformation of the media world is being accompanied by a trend towards activism. Over many years, media development moved away from ideologically motivated publications towards forum newspapers and open platforms. Most recently however, there has been a renaissance of media that stand for specific positions or opinions. Several successful examples of this exist in the digital world. For us, this is simply not an option. We believe that the trust of our broad readership is a core value.
We strive to create public spaces that bring a large number of people together and enable an open exchange. We want to help as many citizens as possible to create their own opinions. That is our task. Even if the contemporary trend is inclined towards a fragmentation of society, we remain convinced that we are on the right path with professional and inclusive journalism. This approach is widely supported in our company and has been our conviction for the past 129 years.
Dr. Pietro Supino
Chairman & Publisher