- Revenue in line, down 1.9 per cent
- EBITDA miss, down 7.4 per cent
- FY dividend of 11p confirmed
Vodafone's earnings fell just shy of consensus forecasts in the year to end-March, though the mobile operator confirmed its expected final dividend of 7.47p per share.
Chief Executive Vittorio Colao admitted the performance had been "mixed", with competitive, regulatory and macroeconomic pressures leading to several write-downs in Europe, where it has a much greater exposure following the sale of its Verizon Wireless stake in the year.
Group revenue sank 1.9% in line with the consensus to £43.6bn, with organic service revenue declining 4.3%, leading to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) sliding 7.4% to £12.8bn, with consensus expecting £12.9bn.
Organic EBITDA margin was down 1.3 percentage points, with significant ongoing pressures in Europe leading to revenue declines in all of the FTSE 100 company's major European markets, and related pressure on margins, despite continuing measures to control costs.
With lower projected cash flows due to the still-tough macro environment and heavy price pressures, impairment charges of £6.6bn were recorded on business in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic and Romania.
Colao stressed that it had been a year of "substantial strategic progress", with the Verizon sale leading to a substantial cash return and enabling the acceleration of an acquisition strategy through the purchase of Kabel in Germany and the pending acquisition of Ono in Spain, together with Colao's Project Spring investment programme.
"The group's emerging markets businesses have performed strongly throughout the year: we have executed our strategy well and have successfully positioned ourselves for the rapid growth in data we are now witnessing.
"In Europe, where we continue to face competitive, regulatory and macroeconomic pressures, we have taken steps to improve our commercial performance, particularly in Germany and Italy, and are beginning to see encouraging early signs."
He said first shoots of Project Spring would become evident later this year, with wider 4G coverage in Europe and 3G coverage in emerging markets and improved network performance.
"While cash flow will be depressed during this investment phase, our intention to continue to grow dividends per share annually demonstrates our confidence in strong future cash flow generation."
The outlook for full year 2015 EBITDA is weaker than many analysts anticipated at £11.4bn-£11.9bn, versus consensus of £12.1 bn.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs noted this and several other key points, with another negative being that "revenue recovery is likely to resume only in the second half of the current financial year as cuts in South Africa and slower growth in India offset ongoing modest improvement in European markets".
On the upside, KPIs were encouraging, with improved contract customer growth in Germany and continued momentum in fixed broadband. And organic service revenue growth improved in the last quarter, with deterioration in Italy offset by sharp improvement in Spain and several smaller markets.
Finally, Vodafone expects £19bn capital expenditure across 2015 and 2016, representing 13%-14% of sales thereafter, lower than Goldman's expectations of a 14.4% share.
"We remain confident that rising investment can drive a return to growth from a lower base," the broker said in a note, cutting EBITDA expectations for 2015 to 2018 by 1%-6%, underlying free cash flow by 2%-4% and its 12-month price target from 240p to 225p.
Shares in Vodafone were down 4.54% to 207.3p at 13:19 on Tuesday.