"UPM's performance in the third quarter was excellent and demonstrated the strength of our business model. Our growth projects and cost-efficiency measures continued to deliver. UPM Paper ENA was particularly successful in this seasonally strong quarter. Our comparable EBIT increased by 31% and our operating cash flow reached record-strong EUR 506 million. Furthermore, our net debt was EUR 986 million lower than a year ago.
UPM Paper ENA's performance shows that value can also be created in a challenging business environment. Successful commercial strategy, continued strict cost management and optimal use of assets deliver results. This was particularly visible in the seasonally strong third quarter, as operational efficiency was on a high level and fixed costs very low.
Going forward, we expect the structural decline in demand of graphic papers in Europe to continue as in the recent years. Therefore we are in the process of conducting a review of our European graphic paper assets. Any potential restructuring plans would be announced in the near future.
Our growth investments continued to gather pace, and contributed significantly to the earnings growth. On top of the pulp and self-adhesive label investments, the Lappeenranta biorefinery and the specialty paper machine in UPM Changshu made good contributions to our performance. We have now reached 80% of the EUR 200 million EBITDA target we have set for this first wave of growth investments.
Our second wave of focused growth investments is proceeding well. The Otepää plywood mill and UPM Kaukas pulp mill expansions are ramping up in the fourth quarter. The second expansion of UPM Kymi pulp mill is proceeding according to plans. In October, we announced a EUR 35 million investment in UPM Raflatac factory in Poland to meet the increasing label stock demand in Europe. In Uruguay we are continuing negotiations on prospects for long-term development.
All in all, we have every reason to be pleased with the quarter. Our strong cash flow enables both focused growth investments and attractive distribution to shareholders. A strong balance sheet gives us the opportunity to accelerate business transformation, when the opportunity and timing are right. UPM aims to maintain a strong balance sheet in all situations."
UPM's outlook for 2016 is unchanged. Profitability is expected to improve in both the full year 2016 and H2 2016, compared with last year. Q4 2016 performance is expected to be negatively impacted compared to Q3 2016 by seasonal factors and clearly higher maintenance activity in UPM Biorefining and UPM Paper ENA.
UPM's growth projects are expected to contribute positively to the company's earnings in 2016, compared with 2015. UPM is continuing its measures to reduce variable and fixed costs in 2016. Currencies are expected to contribute positively as hedges have rolled over.