Brazil gets oil windfall as output poised to soar

Sabrina Valle October 29, 2018

RIO DE JANEIRO (Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is staring at an oil windfall.

After a decade of stagnant production, Brazil’s offshore mega-projects are about to deliver a double whammy with exports set to surge and Brent prices comfortably above $70/bbl. This means more revenue for a country beset with fiscal deficits, and more activity in a key industry, said Decio Oddone, the head of Brazil’s National Petroleum Agency.

The oil turnaround gives the government more than just cash -- it promises to revive the fortunes of Petrobras, the much-maligned state-controlled state oil company that’s a source of pride for many Brazilians but which has spent the past few years mired in scandal.

It takes years to get a deep-water project flowing in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is likely to get all the credit from investment decisions made in the past.

“A lot of Brazilians may see it as the effect of a policy or stance that he implemented and not necessarily the continuation of existing policies,” said Roberta Braga, an associate director who focuses on Latin America for the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. “If this pays off, his image would be improved significantly.”

Petrobras CEO Ivan Monteiro has said production will increase “spectacularly” in 2019 and that the company is re-opening an office in Singapore to help market the boost in exports.

Petrobras’s production is expected to rise 9% in 2019, from 2 MMbpd to 2.4 MMbpd, according to UBS Group. Morgan Stanley expects and even greater increase of 12%. While Petrobras hasn’t announced an official target for 2019 yet, a record eight production vessels have started to be installed this year and will gradually ramp up throughout next year. Together, the floating platforms have the potential to nearly double Petrobras’s oil output capacity.

The increase is thanks to large deposits of oil found a decade ago in deep waters of the Atlantic. The so-called pre-salt - reserves trapped under a thick layer of salt - is now responsible for more than half of the country’s production and is attracting growing investments by oil majors.

This region the main source of value for Petroleo Brasileiro, as the company is formally known, with unparalleled productivity and low-risk exploration, Morgan Stanley analysts Bruno Montanari and Guilherme Levy said in an Oct. 23. report.

Even though production has been flat in 2018, the combination of higher oil prices and a stronger real are already delivering a windfall. Petrobras paid 28% more in taxes and royalties in the first half of 2018, or 75 billion reais, compared with the year-earlier period. Petrobras publishes third-quarter earnings on Nov. 6.

Petrobras also resumed paying dividends and the second quarter was its most profitable since 2011. This contrasts sharply with the multi-billion dollar write-downs it posted in during Brazil’s biggest graft scandal, known as Carwash, a pay-to-play scheme where a group of company executives colluded with suppliers to inflate contracts.

One source of uncertainty is who will lead Petrobras under Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1. He hasn’t named his energy team, which includes the energy minister, or possible recommendations for the board and top management at Petrobras.

“With elections behind us, eyes now turn to the transition government and the selection of the names for the next cabinet,” Bradesco analyst Fernando Barbosa said in a note to clients on Monday.

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