From The Motley Fool
By Sarfaraz A. Khan
Research Assistant: G. Yousuf
By Sarfaraz A. Khan
Research Assistant: G. Yousuf
Millions of Brazilians are currently protesting in their country, demanding better public services. The country’s economy has been performing poorly, missing analysts’ growth estimates in the last five quarters. In first quarter of 2013, the economy registered growth of just 0.5%, while analysts were expecting 0.9%. The markets are now looking for modest growth at best due to weak fiscal policy and increasing inflation. The country has finally moved to increase its benchmark interest rates to offset inflation, but Standard & Poor’s has already cut Brazil’s sovereign credit rating to BBB, which is dangerously close to “junk."
Meanwhile, two of the leading US-listed Brazilian firms, Petroleo Brasileiro (ADR) (NYSE:PBR), also known as Petrobras, and Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras (NYSE: EBR), also known as Eletrobras, have also had their ratings cut by the S&P to BBB with a negative outlook. The former is a leading semi-public energy firm, while the latter is an electric power generation, transmission and distribution company.
Brazil’s capital markets are represented in the iShares MSCI Brazil Index (NYSEMKT:EWZ) ETF, which has dropped by 18% in the last three months. The fund has recorded a net outflow of $790 million in the same period. The ETF represents total net assets of $5.7 billion and includes 81 large and mid-cap Brazilian stocks, including Petrobras and Eletrobras. Petrobras, including preference shares, is the biggest holding in the ETF with a weight of 11.7%, while 0.5% of funds are allocated to Eletrobras.
With mounting economic and social challenges, and the poor performance of Brazilian real against the dollar, I believe that iShares MSCI Brazil Index Fund will most likely under-perform in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Eletrobras has been struggling with falling transmission and generation sales. Speculations abound regarding a significant drop in the company’s revenue in the near future due to the planned reduction in electricity prices by the government. About a month ago, Eletrobras posted an enormous quarterly net loss of $17.8 billion. With a trailing-12 months profit margin of -25%, a return on equity of -11.3% and a year-over-year quarterly revenue drop of 15.6%, Eletrobras is currently the opposite of an attractive investment.
World’s largest corporate spending plan
Petrobras has been selling foreign assets as it wants to focus on its domestic reserves. It has a massive $237 billion five-year investment plan, which is by far the largest program of corporate spending in the world. The company aims to sell its foreign assets to increase focus on Brazil’s southeast coast on the Atlantic seabed which, according to some estimates, hold reserves of 100 billion barrels of liquids. The assets on sale include oil fields, refineries and exploration rights in several countries including Japan, Peru, the United States and Argentina.
The company’s decision to leave Peru was identified in a recent Reuters report but no official word has come out yet. It has recently agreed to sell its 50% stake in the African operations to Brazil’s investment bank, Banco BTG Pactual, against $1.5 billion. It has also planned to sell its 49% stake in a subsidiary which operates 13 small hydroelectric dams with capacity of 291MW to Companhia Energetica de Minas Gerais, more commonly known as CEMIG, for $303 million. Petrobras also sold its six exploration blocks located in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico for $110 million.
While Petrobras originally wanted to raise $14.8 billion from asset sales between 2013 and 2017, it received a lackluster response from the potential buyers so the target was later reducedto $9.9 billion.
The company’s investment plan is ambitious in the truest sense of the word; it is 1.6 times Petrobras’ annual sales, 2.6 times its market cap and 10 times its current cash reserves. Petrobras has recently given some bad news to its investors; its much-awaited Comperj refinery, aimed at lowering Brazil’s fuel imports that have hit the profits of Petrobras, will now start operations from August 2016 – that is one year later than scheduled.
Add that to the ratings downgrade and we have the main reasons behind the performance of the company’s stock.
My Foolish take
Petrobras’ shares have been down 18% in the last six months but the company has been making some good progress, particularly related to partnerships with foreign firms. I believe that it is not a ‘sell’ but a close to a ‘buy’ at the moment. Although I am skeptical about Petrobras’ future targets, the company is moving in the right direction. The current drop in its shares has only made it more attractive and now it offers a juicy dividend yield of 4.2%. Its recent ventures include its partnership with South Korea’s GS Holdings to develop a refinery in Brazil. A similar agreement with China’s Sinopec is also on the cards.
Moreover, some positive news has also come from its upstream operations. Petrobras has started production at its Offshore Lula Nordeste Field, which will produce 13,000 barrels of oil per day. This is the third plant which started operations this year. As far as downstream operation goes, the price increase will also help Petrobras to offset some of the negatives in this loss-making operation. In essence, the company is putting its house in order and even if it fails to meet its spending targets, Petrobras could still emerge as a much better Brazil-focused energy company.