Heidelberg chief executive Bernhard Schreier told shareholders at today’s AGM that the past financial year had been “without doubt one of the worst in the more than 150-year history of Heidelberg - if not the worst”.

Shareholders were battered with the grim post-mortem of the company’s 2008/2009 full-year results, which included a 20% slump in incoming orders to €2.91bn ($4bn), following a freefall in order volumes in the third and fourth quarters.

Heidelberg said that in the second half customers “slammed the brakes down hard” on investments, with the average processed order volume over the two quarters almost halving from €940m  ($1.3bn) the previous year, to €520m ($7.5m).

However, despite warning that the company did not expect conditions to improve much in the current financial year, Schreier did have a few words of comfort for Heidelberg’s investors.

“There are some signs, albeit small ones, of a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. Schreier revealed that in the last three months incoming orders have stabilised at the low level of the previous two quarters, however, he added that it was too early to tell whether this represented a turning of the tide.