With group revenue 25.3% lower than in the prior year at €172.4 million, EBIT was –€34.9 million. Restrictions especially in traveling initially imposed in China and then gradually in many parts of the world are having a significant impact on order and project processing for the delivery, assembly and installation of the machines at our international customers. The effects are also being felt in the services area. At –€36.6 million, group net earnings in the first quarter of 2020 translate into earnings per share of –€2.22.
Despite the significant drop in trade receivables and increased customer prepayments, substantially higher inventories as a result of pandemic-related delivery delays had a major impact on cash flows from operating activities of –€15 million (2019: –€30.6 million). Free cash flow improved from –€51.2 million in the previous year to –€31.3 million. The equity ratio stood at 32.3% at the end of March 2020.
“The economic consequences of the corona crisis pose major challenges for our group,” said president and CEO Claus Bolza-Schünemann. “Our broad product portfolio with a significant share of revenue in system relevant packaging printing, the robust, increasingly digital service business and our sound balance sheet with a high equity ratio limit the risk potential. With the corona crisis management established in March, we are working to actively counter this extraordinary situation. The health and safety of our employees, customers and suppliers is our top priority. Our action plan focuses on reliable customer support, cost and investment discipline and securing liquidity. Short-time working has been in place at different locations since 1 April 2020 due to capacity utilization.”