Awash with cash, Petrobras aims to double in size in 7 years

May 15, 2013 at 8:56 AM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, May 15 (UPI) -- Ahead of this week's dramatic $11 billion bond sale that swelled its coffers, Brazil's state-controlled Petrobras predicts it will double in size in seven years.

Although a healthy yield, the bond issue covers only a small part of a $237 billion spending Petrobras hopes to implement through 2017 as it taps into extreme depths of the Atlantic to build deep-water oil fields and a vast network of production and delivery.

Brazil's rise as a major oil producer also reconfigures the global oil scene and its umbilical link to geopolitics with what some analysts see as a gradual eclipsing of Persian Gulf suppliers, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and sanctions-bound Iran. Rising U.S. energy output is also seen to be playing a part in that likely shift toward the Western Hemisphere.

Petrobras production, recorded at 2.2 million barrels of oil equivalent last year, will reach 5.7 million in 2010, Chief Executive Officer Maria das Gracas Silva Foster told the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

That's destined to give Petrobras -- and Brazil -- unprecedented clout, when taken together with the country's rise as a major aviation, defense and security manufacturing hub in direct competition with U.S., European and Russian companies.

Brazil wants a permanent U.N. Security Council representing all of South America and the Caribbean.

This week's bond offering, the largest by a Latin American country, captivated investors concerned about slow growth or deepening recession in industrial economies that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Brazil isn't an OECD member. Chile is, but its economy is struggling to catch up with Brazil's buoyancy.

Brazil's cleverly crafted debt sale gives Petrobras novel flexibility with the $11 billion split into six tranches of terms that are said to range from 3-30 years. Investor bidding response was more than four times the clinched amount, indicating the markets' hunger for emerging-market profit potential.

Petrobras will use the money this year on exploration and production. Investors expect the company will return to the financial markets next year for more, as will investors with growing appetites.

Not all is rosy in oil-linked Latin American financial markets, though. Venezuela's state-run Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. also excited investors in 2007, when the going was good for that country, but Venezuela is in a variously interpreted recession for the past three years, despite being a major oil exporter.

Brazil's growth, too, has slackened, and investors know that an oil price crash -- widely considered unlikely but never far from the horizon, defying the pundits as before -- will reflect both on Petrobras fortunes as well as on the future quality of the money it borrowed.

The bond issue preceded this week's government auction of oil and natural gas rights in Brazil, the first for five years.

Petrobras comments indicate the company is hedging on a continued rise of interest in its pre-salt energy development plans.

"We (Petrobras) have made 53 discoveries in Brazil during the last 14 months," Foster told conference delegates in Houston. "In the pre-salt alone there were 15 discoveries," she added.

"Petrobras' reserves have the potential to double in size and reach 31.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the coming years."

The company's investments increased at a rate of 21.5 percent a year since 2000 and reached $42.9 billion in 2012.

Investments in research and development during the period grew 18.3 percent a year and in 2012 reached $1.1 billion. Petrobras' investment plan for the 2013-17 period amounts to $236.7 billion, Foster said.

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