Hochtief, Germany's leading construction group, unveiled a better-than-expected set of 2004 earnings Wednesday and said it would increase its dividend to shareholders. Earnings targets in 2004 were met, with pre-tax profit rising by 17 percent to €187 million ($243 million). The group had been forecasting a 10-percent rise in earnings before tax and analysts had been pencilling in a figure of around €170 million. "Consolidated net profit likewise fulfilled expectations in spite of a higher tax rate," the group said, without providing a concrete figure. But Hochtief had previously announced it expected to double net profit from €77 million in 2003. As a result of the higher earnings, Hochtief said it would propose an increased dividend of €0.75 per share for 2004, compared with €0.65 a year earlier. At a time of ongoing crisis in the German construction sector with rival Walter Bau recently filing for insolvency, Hochtief's performance remains strong. Construction output rose by 13 percent to €13 billion, new orders were up around eight percent to €15.5 billion and the order backlog rose by 13 percent to €18.6 billion, Hochtief said.