Nine months into the year, the World continues to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. After a difficult second quarter marked by the lockdown measures, this third quarter was still a period in which many restrictions subsisted and impacted our day-to-day lives.
During these last few months, we have done everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our people, customers and partners. I remain grateful and humbled by the resilience and dedication of our teams, who have really gone the extra mile to continue to provide essential services to our customers and have shown great grit and resourcefulness in times of constant change. In this pandemic context, Sonae continued to show a very resilient performance, driven by a unique knowledge of our customers, the digital readiness of our businesses and a Group-wide ability to quickly innovate and adapt to changing circumstances.
Sonae MC strengthened its leadership position in Portugal, leveraging the strength of the Continente loyalty program (which continued to provide new benefits and functionalities in an increasingly digital and personalized offering), and also the ability to rapidly scale its e-commerce delivery capacity and reinforce its position as the reference online grocery retailer in the country. Worten also continued to gain market share in Portugal underpinned by a world-class omnichannel approach and multiple new digital initiatives, having reached, for the first time ever, a higher market share online than offline. At Sonae Sierra, shopping centres remained under pressure but started to recover footfall and tenant sales, while the team worked together with tenants to find creative solutions to maximize their offline and online sales. Sonae Fashion and ISRG stores reopened and showed encouraging signs, while online sales remained at record levels – particularly at Mo, where the innovative MOxAd-Tech masks boosted e-commerce and international sales. Sonae FS resumed normalized levels of credit production and Universo reached 400 thousand digital clients. Sonae IM’s solid operational performance was highly driven by the cybersecurity companies in the portfolio, and Arctic Wolf reached the unicorn status in Q4. Finally, NOS showed the resilience of its core telecommunications business and executed important deals that improve the company’s financial strength and will enable a faster, more efficient and environmentally sustainable deployment and operation of mobile networks.
Overall, in the third quarter Sonae was able to grow turnover by 6% and improved its underlying EBITDA by more than 8% versus last year, which enabled us to surpass last year’s underlying EBITDA at the end of September. We continued to preserve our balance sheet by deploying multiple cash preservation initiatives across businesses and also by refinancing important debt facilities. In total, the Group’s consolidated net debt decreased €287 M to €1,233 M in the last 12 months and all businesses remain with conservative leverage levels.
During this pandemic context, we also decided to reinforce our commitment to our People and our Planet. We published a revised gender equality plan, with specific and ambitious goals for women in managerial positions. And, already in November, we committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2040, anticipating our previous pledge by ten years.
As I write these words, and since the beginning of October, we have witnessed an increase in Covid-19 infections all over the World, and governments are again resuming harsher restrictions, including renewed lockdowns in some countries. This new surge will certainly test us again. But, having endured the first wave as we did and given the extensive preparation of our teams in the last few months, I am certain that our businesses will be able to meet our customers’ needs and that Sonae will continue to create value for all its stakeholders.