Cashed-up Eike Batista won't sell oil stakes

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 8:19 PM
Cashed-up Eike Batista won't sell oil stakes

By Brian Ellsworth and Joshua Schneyer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazil's richest man said on Friday he has abandoned talks to sell stakes in his offshore oil prospects, which had drawn interest from China, because he already has billions in cash on hand.

Eike Batista's flagship oil company OGX had been in talks with companies including oil firms from China, but no longer sees any need to sell because a $2.6 billion bond issue earlier this year left it flush, he said in a three-hour interview at Reuters' headquarters.

Batista also said OGX was close to signing a long-term supply deal to export part of its oil production to one of the world's largest oil refiners, without naming the company.

"The bond issue, which was spectacular, completely covered the need for cash," Batista said in an interview. "We brought in exactly what we needed to live off our own spoils."

Batista, valued by Forbes at near $30 billion, struck a defiant tone in the face of a quickly worsening global economy, saying his companies ran "idiot-proof" projects that could withstand a sharp drop in commodities prices.

He said he saw "zero" risk that a slower economy could thwart his companies' efforts to raise capital for their estimated $50 billion in planned investment.

"I have to laugh," he said when asked whether he was worried about the recent plunge in the share prices of his companies. "My companies are all going to be massive cash flow machines, I'm going to pump money to my shareholders and dividends to my sons and my grandsons."

Shares in OGX and some of Batista's other companies have suffered steep losses during the market turmoil since the start of August. OGX is down 43 percent since the start of the year.

He expects his five publicly listed companies, which range from oil and gas production to mining and logistics, to generate $1 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2012.


A flamboyant playboy and larger-than-life figure in Brazil, Batista has vowed to expand Brazil's flagging infrastructure that he says is constraining the country's growth and reducing its competitiveness.

"I want to build Brazil into a modern machine," he said, describing the current chaos of clogged ports that boost costs for exporters and prevent industries from expanding.

His companies -- most of which are not yet generating a profit -- will be able to pay shareholders dividends by 2014 as they generate earnings, he said.

OGX, Batista's biggest company by market capitalization, drew billions of dollars in investment in a 2008 share offering and has come to be seen as an alternative to state-run Petrobras, which critics say suffers from political intervention by state leaders.

Batista, who made his first fortune buying gold from wildcat miners in the 1980s, said he's willing to take financial risks that his Brazilian counterparts shy away from.

"Without my culture of risk-taking, nothing would have happened," he said. "These guys don't have the stomach for risk," he said of Brazilian businessmen.

He also benefits from an uncanny sense of where to find riches. "I have a pact with nature," he said.


OGX plans to pump its first oil in November and says its drilling campaign has had success rate near 90 percent. It plans to boost output from 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) late this year, to 1.4 million bpd in 2019.

From his first operating oil field, known as Waimea, Batista plans to start selling oil to a "top 3" oil major with huge refining interests, he said.

"When we sign that contract, the world will see the quality of our oil," he said, declining to identify the company because of securities regulations.

Batista said low costs of his shallow-water drilling mean OGX would break even if world oil prices fell as low as $24 a barrel. Benchmark Brent oil currently trades above $104 a barrel, and he expects prices to average around $90 a barrel in the future.

OGX shares closed up 1.1 percent to 11.71 reais per share on Brazil's Bovespa exchange on Friday.


He said market volatility in recent weeks has prompted the Brazilian real to lose value against the U.S. dollar at a faster rate than Brazil's government had intended.

The rate closed near 1.84 reais per dollar on Friday, but had fallen as low as 1.90 on Thursday. As recently as late August, the rate was below 1.60.

But he said Brazil is in a better position than other countries to weather the global economic downturn, citing 190,000 jobs that Brazil added last month.

"We're running full employment. Big projects are having trouble hiring people," he said in an interview with Reuters Insider. "By 2020 we're going to have 75 percent of our population in the middle class. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily; editing by Derek Caney, Bob Burgdorfer and Sofina Mirza-Reid)