Overall, we are very satisfied with the business and economic development of the PUMA Group in the past financial year. In 2019, PUMA was able to fully achieve or even slightly exceed its financial targets, which had already been raised during the year. We owe this in particular to the further consistent implementation of our "Forever Faster" corporate strategy. We have therefore continued to make targeted investments in marketing and concluded contracts with internationally renowned football clubs, such as Manchester City and Valencia CF, to strengthen our position as a sports brand and further increase our brand heat. Moreover, the strategic focus on the further improvement of our product range for women and the return to basketball have significantly contributed to the successful business performance in 2019. The opening of our new flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York and the project launch of our new multi-channel distribution centers in Germany and the U.S. represented additional milestones in PUMA's organizational development in the past financial year.
PUMA was again able to record a strong growth in sales with a currency-adjusted sales growth of 16.7% in 2019. All regions and all product divisions contributed to this development with double-digit growth. In 2019, we were also once again able to make significant improvements in terms of profitability. In 2019, the operating result (EBIT), net earnings and earnings per share increased by more than 30% compared to the previous year. In addition to the strong sales growth, this is primarily due to the improvement in the gross profit margin and also to the decrease in the cost ratio of other operating expenses. In the past financial year, the operating result of € 440.2 million was even slightly above our forecast of € 420 million to € 430 million, which had been raised during the year. Earnings per share rose by 40% from € 1.25 to € 1.76 compared to the previous year. This means we fully achieved and even slightly exceeded our profitability targets in the past financial year.
With regards to the balance sheet, we believe that PUMA has continued to have an extremely solid capital base. On the balance sheet date, the equity of the PUMA Group was more than € 1.9 billion (previous year: € 1.7 billion) and the equity ratio was just under 44%. Furthermore, the consistent focus on working capital management contributed to the fact that working capital increased by only 9% compared to the previous year despite the significant increase in sales. The increase in earnings before taxes (EBT) and the working capital management in the past financial year also contributed to a significant improvement in cash flow. Free cash flow before acquisitions improved in 2019 by 7.6% or € 11.3 million to € 331.2 million, even if the one-off positive effect of € 170.5 million from the first-time application of IFRS 16 is disregarded. Cash and cash equivalents amounted to € 518.1 million on the balance sheet date (previous year: € 463.7 million).
As a result, the asset, financial and income situation of the PUMA Group is overall 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 7, 2020, a dividend of € 0.50 per share for the financial year 2019. This corresponds to a payout ratio of 28.5% in relation to the consolidated net earnings and is in line with our dividend policy.