Shell’s strategy and financial framework are designed to manage through multi-year macroeconomic cycles and multi-decade investment and returns horizons. We balance near-term affordability and cost trends with the fundamentally long-term nature of our industry.
Our priorities for cash are to continue reducing net debt, pay dividends and invest in the business to sustain cash flow.
Shell’s distributed dividend in 2019 was $15.2 billion. Our policy is to grow the dollar dividend through time, in line with our view of our underlying earnings and cash flow. When setting the dividend, the Board of Directors looks at a range of factors, including the macroeconomic environment, the current balance sheet and future investment plans.
2019 was a year of good cash flow delivery against the backdrop of a tough macroeconomic environment.
We continued the $25 billion share buyback programme that started in July 2018. By the end of 2019 a total of $14.1 billion of shares had been bought back. This resulted in more than $25 billion total returns to shareholders in 2019 through dividends and share buybacks. Our intention to complete the $25 billion share buyback programme is unchanged, but it is not likely to be feasible before the end of 2020. We will continue to monitor the evolving business environment and make decisions on further tranches of the share buyback programme on a quarterly basis.
Total cash capital expenditure was $24 billion in 2019. Our net debt has increased since the end of 2018, partly driven by the implementation of IFRS 16, resulting in a gearing ratio of 29.3%.
We are committed to maintaining a strong financial framework to manage volatility. We remain disciplined in our spend and have announced a reduction in 2020 cash capital expenditure to $20 billion from a planned level of around $25 billion, given the current macroeconomic conditions. We will continue to review the dynamically evolving business environment and are prepared to take further strategic decisions and consider changes to the overall financial framework.