01 March 2019, Rio De Janeiro — Petroleo Brasileiro SA is expanding its ambitious divestment program and has “bold” plans for future sales, the Brazilian state-run oil company’s chief executive said after the firm posted its first annual profit in five years.
On a conference call with analysts to discuss fourth-quarter results, CEO Roberto Castello Branco said selling non-core assets will be key to reducing debt.
Petrobras, as the company is known, can reduce its ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, to 1.5 or even to 1, he added. The ratio at the close of the fourth quarter was 2.34.
The University of Chicago-educated CEO, who took the reins in early January, has long been vocal about the need to slim down the sprawling company and focus on core activities such as exploration and production. Thursday’s comments were some of his most assertive on the matter.
Shallow-water and onshore fields are among the first on the block, while the company hopes to complete the sale of its TAG pipeline unit “soon” and options are being considered for the future of distribution unit Petrobras Distribuidora SA , executives said.
Debt reduction can occur through various initiatives, the most important of which are “a more aggressive divestment program and getting out of assets where we’re not a natural owner,” Castello Branco said.
“Really, get out – not sell a part of the asset.”
The company posted a fourth-quarter profit on Wednesday night of 2.102 billion reais ($564 million). That was significantly below analysts’ expectations thanks to more than 11 billion reais of one-time writedowns and judicial contingencies.
Still, analysts were generally pleased by strong free-cash flow and steady debt reduction. EBITDA came in roughly in line with expectations.
In a note to clients, analysts at UBS praised the results, calling an acceleration of debt reduction a pillar of its investment case.
On Thursday, executives reaffirmed previous statements to the effect that the company would like to cut in half its share of Brazil’s refining capacity, currently 98 percent.
While several international oil companies have said they are putting a greater emphasis on renewable energy such as wind and solar, Castello Branco expressed caution about the short- and medium-term, saying Petrobras did not appear to have a “comparative advantage” in wind and solar.
Brazil-listed preferred shares of Petrobras were in the black in morning trade, but were off 1.37 percent by the early afternoon. That still beat Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa index , which was off 1.78 percent.