The decisive actions we took in 2018 resulted in an all-time record ongoing earnings per share, EBIT margin expansion in our North American region and strong free cash flow, driven primarily through disciplined working capital management, including significant improvements in inventory efficiencies. We were able to deliver strong results in the face of significant levels of global trade and economic uncertainty and maintain our financial flexibility, while investing in our business and returning a record amount of cash to shareholders.
Our capital allocation strategy remains unchanged: fund the business and our strategic investments while returning cash to shareholders. A review of our 2018 allocation results highlights our continued commitment to this strategy.
In 2018, we continued to fund our ongoing operations, investing more than $1 billion in innovation through capital expenditures and R&D. These investments enabled us to launch numerous innovative products, such as our Whirlpool branded kitchen suite, which features smart ovens that integrate with Yummly Guided Cooking and support voice commands using compatible voice-enabled devices, as well as an industry-first low profile microwave that fits and vents like an oven hood. We also made significant investments in our Laundry category, highlighted by the recent launch of our new North America front-load line, which includes our connected, All-in-One washer/dryer combo. Additionally, we invested in new technology and automation in our manufacturing facilities around the globe as we continue to execute our “World Class Manufacturing” strategy. These examples provide just a glimpse into the investments being made across the company, further solidifying our position as a global leader in the home appliance industry. These investments ensure we continue to put Whirlpool Corporation in a position to deliver connected and innovative home appliances that make consumers’ lives easier every day.
Given the elevated levels of macroeconomic volatility and global trade uncertainty in 2018, we continue to focus on maintaining strong liquidity and appropriate financial flexibility. This year, we finished with approximately $1.5 billion in cash on hand and approximately $3.5 billion in available credit facilities.
Our year-end debt levels remain temporarily elevated as we entered into a $1 billion term loan agreement in the second quarter of 2018. The term loan funded accelerated share repurchases of $1 billion through a modified Dutch auction tender offer. Upon completion of the Embraco compressor business unit sale in 2019, the term loan will be paid in full and our capital structure will return to recent historical levels. We are focused on maintaining an optimal capital structure while maintaining a strong investment-grade credit rating.
We returned an all-time record $1.5 billion to shareholders in 2018. We increased our quarterly dividend for the sixth consecutive year and repurchased $1.2 billion of common stock. In line with our balanced approach to capital allocation, we remain committed to delivering strong returns for our shareholders in 2019 and beyond.
In closing, we remain firmly committed to funding our business across the globe, ensuring we provide innovative products for our consumers at all times. We remain focused on maintaining the appropriate financial flexibility to drive growth and deliver strong results in the face of significant levels of global trade and economic uncertainty. This will ensure we progress steadily toward our long-term financial goals and generate strong returns for our shareholders in the years to come.
James W. Peters
Executive Vice President and
Chief Financial Officer