Repsol posted a net income of €648 million in the first quarter of 2021, thanks to efficient management that has enabled the company to endure the difficult context brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite the pandemic continuing to hinder the global economy over the first months of the year, the measures implemented by the company have enabled it to take advantage of the recovery of crude oil prices following their abrupt drop in 2020, thereby improving upon the numbers from the same quarter of last year.
The health crisis crippled worldwide demand throughout 2020, sending commodity prices plummeting to unprecedented lows. This included the Brent crude price falling as far as $15 per barrel last April, with an average for the year of $41. Between January and March of 2021, the average Brent climbed up to $61 per barrel, leading to an appreciation of stocks, while the Henry Hub sat at $2.70 MBtu, similar to the previous quarter.
As such, adjusted net income — a specific metric of business unit performance — reached €471 million, 5.4% higher than the same period in 2020 and featuring sound results from the Exploration and Production and the Chemicals areas. Repsol's integrated business model has proven decisive in achieving this positive result despite the enormous difficulty of the present context, which has significantly affected Refining and Mobility.
The launch of the 2021–2025 Strategic Plan and the measures implemented against the pandemic have demonstrated their efficiency. This is reflected in the improvement of the aforementioned results in comparison to the same period in 2020. Moreover, all business areas obtained positive operating cash flow, reaching a total of €1.030 billion for the entire Repsol Group. Free cash flow was also positive, totaling €507 million.
At the same time, Repsol managed to reduce its net debt by €326 million in the first three months of the year, a 5% reduction that lowers total debt to €6.452 billion. Liquidity stands at €8.456 billion, which is 2.93 times the value of short-term maturities. And further bolstering its financial position, in March, the company issued subordinated bonds that garnered €750 million.
Repsol continues to comply with its strategic role as a supplier of essential services to society, providing indispensable products and services whose importance has become increasingly clear throughout the health crisis. The company has shown its steadfast commitment to assisting in Spain's economic recovery through a series of initiatives focused simultaneously on decarbonization and industrial transformation.
Repsol announced in late March that it had responded to the Spanish government's call for expressions of interest with a portfolio of 31 projects eligible for Next Generation EU recovery funds, amounting to a total investment of €6.359 billion. The projects combine technology, decarbonization and the circular economy, creation of quality employment, and geographical balance. Eight of them are renewable hydrogen projects, nine are focused on the circular economy, four on renewable generation and storage, eight distributed energy and electric mobility projects, one addresses digital industrial transformation infrastructure, and the last one is focused on the transformation of the energy value chain using artificial intelligence and data analysis.
The various decarbonization initiatives that Repsol has put into action have enabled the company to make strides towards reaching its goal of zero net emissions by 2050, despite the adverse scenario caused by the pandemic. Following the path laid out in its 2021–2025 Strategic Plan, Repsol has focused 40% of its first quarter investments in low-carbon projects.
The new Strategic Plan also establishes shareholder remuneration as one of the company's priorities. In January, the company paid out its last scrip dividend for the 2021–2025 period. In keeping with the plan, shareholders, at the company's Annual General Meeting on March 26, approved a complementary dividend of €0.30 gross per share in cash charged to 2020 profits, in addition to the scrip dividend paid in January. Shareholders also approved the distribution, similar to the traditional payment charged to 2021, of €0.30 gross per share.