Despite the numerous operational challenges, 2021 was an excellent financial year for PUMA. Although the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continued in 2021, we were able to achieve the highest sales volume to date and, at the same time, the best net earnings in PUMA's corporate history. This was only possible thanks to the extraordinary commitment of our employees, who coped admirably with this difficult time through their flexibility, determination and positive attitude. Our approach to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic was to manage the crisis in the short-term without hindering PUMA’s mid-term momentum. Accordingly, our primary goal was to survive the crisis together with our partners, to recover and then to emerge stronger from the crisis with growth. The health and safety of our employees, business partners and customers were our top priority. We have also worked hard to limit as much as possible the delays in our supply chain and the production losses at our suppliers' sites caused, for example, by the COVID-19 lockdown in South Vietnam. In addition, we had to deal with a very difficult market situation in China this year. The long-standing, close and trusting cooperation with our customers, manufacturers, logistics partners and other partners was one of the most important success factors for us in dealing with the pandemic.
With regard to our organizational development, we made important progress this year. Our Central European logistics center in Geiselwind, Germany started operations this year, and we have also been working intensively on expanding the logistics centers in our main markets. Our North America and international marketing organization in the USA and our administrative functions in France and Sweden have moved to new, modern office buildings. Likewise, we continued to improve our processes and systems and invested, for example, in the modernization of our IT infrastructure and the further development of our product development and ERP systems.
We were able to achieve currency-adjusted sales growth of 31.7% in the financial year 2021. All regions and all product divisions contributed to this development with double-digit growth rates. We were also able to make significant improvements in terms of profitability in 2021, achieving the best operating result (EBIT) and consolidated net earnings in PUMA's corporate history. In addition to the strong growth in sales, this development is also attributable to the improvement in the gross profit margin and to the operating leverage achieved. At € 557.1 million, operating result in the past financial year exceeded our outlook of € 450 million to € 500 million, which we had already revised upward during the year. Earnings per share almost quadrupled compared to the previous year, from € 0.53 to € 2.07. This means that we have exceeded our profitability targets in the past financial year.
With regard to the balance sheet, we believe that PUMA continues to have a very solid capital base. As of the balance sheet date, the PUMA Group's equity amounted to almost € 2.3 billion, and the equity ratio was just under 40%.
Our consistent focus on working capital management made a significant contribution in the past financial year to limiting the negative impact on our working capital despite the delays in the supply chain, which led to a significant increase in goods in transit. Our cash and cash equivalents increased to € 757.5 million as of the balance sheet date. In addition, the PUMA Group has unutilized credit lines totaling € 942.0 million at its disposal.
Consequently, the net asset, financial and income situation of the PUMA Group is overall very solid at the time the Combined Management Report was prepared. This enables the Management Board and the Supervisory Board to propose to the Annual General Meeting on May 11, 2022, a dividend of € 0.72 per share for the financial year 2021. This corresponds to a payout ratio of 34.8% in relation to the consolidated net earnings according to IFRS and is in line with our dividend policy.