STUTTGART (Reuters) -Mercedes-Benz Group beat analysts’ estimate with an annual earnings of 20.5 billion euros ($21.80 billion) and a stronger revenue, the premium car maker said on Friday, but warned of lower earnings this year due to economic uncertainty.

The carmaker, one of the few German companies to stick to its 2022 targets and even raise its profit forecast last October despite the unstable environment, hit its forecast of a 13%-15% adjusted return on sales in the cars division, reporting a 14.6% margin.

Still, the company forecast a lower adjusted return of 12%-14% on sales for the cars division in 2023 and group earnings slightly below 2022, even with Mercedes-Benz Cars unit sales expected at the same level.

Mercedes-Benz said it will also propose a dividend of 5.20 euros per share, up from 5 euros last year, amounting to a total payout of 5.6 billion euros.

Incoming orders were sluggish in Europe, and sales in the Chinese market were tepid due to the COVID-19 restrictions in the fourth quarter, the company said in a statement, adding that demand in the United States was still strong.

Still, top-end vehicle sales, which saw particularly strong growth in 2022 and helped the carmaker overcome rising costs, are expected to rise slightly this year.

The company’s fourth-quarter earnings came in at 5.4 billion euros, above estimates of analysts polled by Refinitiv of 5 billion euros.

The company, which committed on Thursday to buy back up to 4 billion euros in shares by 2025, reported an adjusted free-cash flow in its industrial business of 9.29 billion euros, down 8% from last year.

($1 = 0.9402 euros)

(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, Editing by Miranda Murray, Rachel More and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)


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