In the financial year just ended we generated Group Net income of EUR 1.06 billion (previous year: EUR 958.6 million) and hence not only achieved our profit target for 2018, but also posted a double-digit return on equity for the tenth year in succession. This should not, however, blind us to the fact that the financial year was a particularly challenging one. In property and casualty reinsurance, for example, we incurred above-average natural catastrophe losses that exceeded the budgeted level. Furthermore, in life and health reinsurance we had to absorb considerable one-time strains associated with actions taken to improve our US mortality Portfolio. The healthy Group net income that we were still able to deliver was assisted by outstanding investment income and the good underlying quality of our portfolio in both property & casualty and life & health reinsurance.
Our gross premium volume rose by 7.8% to EUR 19.2 billion (EUR 17.8 billion); adjusted for exchange rate effects, growth amounted to 11.6%. Net premium earned increased by 10.6% to EUR 17.3 billion (EUR 15.6 billion). In both life & health and property & casualty reinsurance we were also able to boost the operating result (EBIT) by double-digit percentages. The operating profit came in at EUR 1.6 billion (EUR 1.4 billion). The earnings per share amounted to EUR 8.79 (EUR 7.95).
The shareholders' equity increased by 2.9% year-on-year to reach EUR 8.8 billion (EUR 8.5 billion). The total policyholders' surplus (including non-controlling interests and hybrid capital) grew by 2.4% to EUR 11.0 billion (EUR 10.8 billion). The book value per share thus stood at EUR 72.78 (EUR 70.72). The return on equity amounted to 12.2% (10.9%).
With the approval of the Annual General Meeting held on 8 May 2019, we distributed altogether around 60% of our Group net income for the 2018 financial year to our shareholders. The total distribution of EUR 633.1 million was split into an ordinary dividend of EUR 3.75 and a special dividend of EUR 1.50 per share.
Expenditures for wages and salaries in the financial year just ended were slightly higher than in the previous year at EUR 287.0 million (EUR 274.4 million).