A solid end to the year.
Comments from President and CEO Åsa Bergman:
We ended the year with a solid quarter, delivering good organic growth and improved margins. Overall demand for our services remains good and we continue to strengthen our order book. We also have a strong financial position, which allows us to act on opportunities in the market. During the year, we completed eight acquisitions and welcomed more than 400 new experts to Sweco. This development continues into 2022, with our acquisition of Swedish Net Engineering being announced early February. The acquisition further strengthens our leading position in the market for physical and technical protection and security in Sweden.
The pandemic made 2021 another challenging year. I am therefore pleased that we were able to deliver a year with profitable growth. I believe it shows the strength of our diversified service offering, our decentralised model and the solid underlying demand for our services, driven by strong trends in society.
Sustainable transformation pervades everything we do at Sweco. In this quarter, we have won assignments such as engineering services for a pilot plant for industrial hydrogen production in Finland, design of an innovative zero carbon building in London's King's Cross area and planning an energy island for wind turbines in the North Sea offshore Belgium.
Positive development in most business areas
We delivered healthy growth in the fourth quarter. Net sales increased to SEK 5,920 million (5,142), with organic growth at five per cent, adjusted for calendar effects and items affecting comparability (IAC). EBITA, adjusted for calendar and IAC, amounted to SEK 585 million (514), with an EBITA margin of 9.9 per cent (9.5). The improvement was mainly driven by higher average fees, while higher operating expenses and higher absence impacted negatively.
Seven out of eight business areas reported positive organic growth, and five out of eight reported year-on-year higher EBITA in the quarter. The development was particularly strong in Norway and the Netherlands. Denmark delivered improved margins and Germany is taking steps in the right direction on its long-term turnaround journey. We see the performance as a first sign that our actions implemented in Germany are beginning to have a positive impact. Belgium and Finland continued to deliver solid performance, although at slightly lower margins in the quarter. Sweden maintained a high margin, despite an EBITA decline. Sweco UK is more or less unchanged compared with last year and is still facing an uncertain market.
Our financial position remains strong with good cash flow in the quarter, a low net debt and significant available financial resources.
Well-positioned for long-term profitable growth
One of the key highlights in the quarter was the climate summit COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Many ambitious agreements have been signed between political leaders as well as companies from across the globe, thereby setting the foundation to further accelerate the necessary sustainable transformation of our society.
For Sweco, this means even stronger underlying demand for our services for the years and decades to come as climate action is needed on all levels in society. With our broad offering, we are well-positioned to be the partner of choice for our clients.
As always, our focus going forward is to deliver profitable growth. We see great business opportunities and will continue to focus on implementing the Sweco model in all countries to optimise our way of working. We will also remain active in the market consolidation and capture opportunities when they arise.
I would like to end by thanking all our employees, clients, shareholders and other partners for the great work done and productive collaboration this year. We are truly transforming society together.