It is with great pleasure and sense of responsibility that I write you my first letter as Sonae’s CEO. Enthusiasm for leading a portfolio of businesses with such relevant positions and interesting challenges in each of its sectoral contexts. Responsibility for continuing a path of success anchored in our strong corporate values and in the creation of economic and social value.
The quality of our businesses and our teams were key to another successful year. In 2019, we delivered outstanding operational and financial results across the entire portfolio. Consolidated turnover grew 9.2% to €6,435 M and underlying EBITDA increased 22.2% to €599 M. This performance, together with an active portfolio management, allowed for a €167 M reduction of our net debt and a further strengthening of our capital structure.
Sonae MC continued to reinforce its leadership position despite the fierce competition in the market. The company presented a record turnover growth of 9.2% to €4,702 M fueled by positive LfL figures in all segments, formats and key categories, but also by the execution of its expansion plan, while maintaining benchmark profitability levels. Health and Wellness continued to be an important growth avenue and, in 2019, the acquisition of a majority stake in Arenal marked the entrance of the company in the Spanish market.
Our remaining retail businesses also had a remarkable year. Worten ended 2019 on a very positive note, reaching the same level of annual turnover and underlying profitability of 2018, after a more challenging start to the year. In strategic terms, the company continued to expand its digital and services offering, and executed a demanding restructuring plan in Spain mainland. Sonae Fashion had a particularly positive year with solid improvements in sales and profitability across banners, already showing the benefits of the ongoing transformation plan. ISRG maintained a strong performance, with double-digit growth rates and EBITDA more than doubling year-on-year, further strengthening our confidence in the future of this joint venture.
Sonae Sierra continued to post very solid operational results and had a very important year in terms of strategy execution. I would like to start by highlighting the merger of Sonae Sierra Brasil with Aliansce Shopping Centres, which created the largest operator in the country. On the other hand, the company has continued to execute its capital recycling programme and, already in 2020, announced the creation of Sierra Prime, a €1.8 bn strategic joint venture in Iberia with three blue-chip investors. The services business continued to grow and, on the development front, the first shopping centre in Colombia was inaugurated and a number of other projects progressed at a good pace, namely expansions in dominant assets.
NOS continues to be a key asset in our portfolio, posting very solid results in a challenging market. Revenues increased in both telco and audiovisuals/cinemas segments and the company continued to improve its operational efficiency, which resulted in an additional increase in the EBITDA margin. The business continues to make progress in its technological and digital transformation, and is well positioned for the opportunities that will arise from the 5G rollout in Portugal.
Regarding our most recent business units, Sonae FS had another year of sustained growth of its Universo Card operation, which in just four years captured a market share of 12.8% of credit production, with already 858 thousand users, clearly reinforcing its position in the Portuguese payments market. Additionally, Sonae IM continued to build its portfolio of technology-based companies and completed the sales of Saphety and WeDo Technologies, important milestones of its active portfolio management activity.
During this year we also devoted a great deal of our attention to the development of group-wide initiatives on several fronts, namely in talent management, promoting diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability and community support. We are proud of our track record in these areas. For instance, this year I signed, on behalf of Sonae, the CEO Guide to Human Rights of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which compels company leaders to promote the defence of human rights and the improvement of people’s lives. I take this responsibility to heart and Sonae will continue to be at the forefront of what companies can do to improve the society we live in.
In October, we organised our first Capital Markets Day, an important milestone, to share our vison and strategy with investors and analysts, and also to be able to better convey the quality of our assets and management teams. The event was well received by the investment community and we will remain committed to maintain a close and transparent dialogue with our main stakeholders.
My final word goes to our people. Our sustained success would not be possible without the enthusiasm, commitment and quality of our teams. These last few months confirmed what I already knew: that Sonae’s values are well alive within each one of our people. In a context of increasing uncertainty and speed, as well as mounting competitive pressures, our teams confirmed their ability to collaborate with each other and perform to a remarkable standard. They did so by contributing to solve challenges that go far beyond their day-to-day activities and by helping us have a long-lasting contribution to the most pressing social and environmental issues.
A special thank you to João Dolores (CFO) and João Günther Amaral (CDO) and the CEOs of our businesses. Together we make a very confident and committed team aiming to improve the quality of our assets as well as our people and our communities.
Sonae is an organisation of excellence and I am particularly grateful to both Paulo and Ângelo for the remarkable way they have led the group over the past few years. I accepted this position knowing the weight of their legacy and I am enthusiastic about the challenges that lie ahead. I am sure our future will be another chapter of success in Sonae’s history, one that will be written in partnership with each of our stakeholders.
Finally, and as I write these words, the World is facing the spread of a pandemic. The impacts of Covid-19 will probably be extensive, widespread and long-lasting. Although we are still at the beginning of the outbreak, I can already say with pride that our people are being true heroes. Sonae plays a critical role in ensuring people have access to a number of essential products and services. Our teams know this and have been showing a fantastic spirit and commitment over the past few days. We will continue to do everything we can to protect our employees while responding to the needs of the communities we serve. I am confident that we will all overcome this challenging situation. Sonae will certainly strive to make its contribution.