One sign of a great company is its ability to manage through short-term volatile conditions to achieve long-term sustained value. At AEP, we are a stronger and more resilient company because we are investing in and carefully managing our human, financial and environmental capital. By incorporating sustainability throughout our business, we can achieve the level of operational and financial performance that enhances the customer experience, delivers fair returns to our shareholders, meets our obligations to our lenders, engages employees, and allows us to fulfill our environmental and social commitments. In 2013, AEP exceeded its financial and operational targets, maintained a strong balance sheet, achieved our best environmental performance ever, and had no employee fatalities for the second year in a row. AEP has turned an important corner on its path to becoming the utility of the future.
Our emphasis on executing our strategy, engaging employees in continuous improvement, and exercising fiscal and strategic discipline was rewarded in the marketplace in 2013. AEP shareholders received a 14.2 percent total return, including dividends, compared with the 7.8 percent total shareholder return of our peers in the S&P 500 Electric Utilities Index. Our annual dividend increased 6.4 percent and we continue to target a 60 percent to 70 percent dividend payout ratio.