By Devika Krishna Kumar and Simon Webb
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazil's state-run oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro SA
The world's most indebted oil company is on course to reduce debt to $69 billion by the end of this year despite falling short of its $21 billion asset sales target, Grisolia told Reuters in an interview in New York late Friday.
The firm has significantly reduced its net debt from the $106 billion it had accumulated in 2014 to finance development of massive deepwater Atlantic oil fields. Then, Petrobras lost investor confidence as oil prices fell, a corruption scandal engulfed the company and losses from government fuel subsidies mounted.
Petrobras aims to cut net debt by a further $10 billion in 2019 to reach a ratio of 2 times net debt-to-EBITDA, he said. The firm will continue cutting debt until the ratio hits 1-1.5 times, he said, which would put it in line with global oil majors.
"If you look at our direct competitors and peers like Chevron, Exxon and BP, we need to look for a more light capital structure," Grisolia said.
The firm should reach a ratio of 1.5 in 2020 as part of its next five-year business plan, he said, although that would depend on international oil prices and other variables such as foreign exchange rates.
Over the next 5-6 years, once the firm had achieved debt restructuring targets, Petrobras may consider foreign investments to facilitate exports of rising output from the development of the prolific deepwater pre-salt fields, he said.
The firm may invest in terminals abroad to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG), he said. That would help Brazil export more gas, he added.
OIL PRICES HELP
Oil production is expected to rise by about 8-10 percent next year from about 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, Grisolia said. That should contribute to increased revenue, he added.
Higher oil prices than the company estimated in its 2018 budget have raised revenue and allowed Petrobras to hit its debt reduction target, he said. That compensated for the $7 billion from asset sales that Petrobras expected to receive this year, he added.
The company has already received $5 billion from sales and will receiving another $2 billion before the end of the year, he said.
"All the divestment and cash from divestment will help, but we don't necessarily need them to achieve the target of $69 billion by the end of the year," he said.
Earlier this year, a nationwide truckers' protest over rising diesel prices paralysed Latin America's largest economy and forced the government to lower diesel prices through tax cuts and subsidies.
That hurt Petrobras' share price as investors worried the firm would again lose cash to subsidize fuel sales.
The firm expected to receive 2 billion reais to 2.5 billion reais from the country's oil regulator within two weeks to compensate for subsidies, Grisolia said.
Subsidies have made it less profitable for the private sector to import diesel, he said, but some imports continued and he did not foresee any fuel shortages.
"Although the volume of imports to Brazil is lower, they are not zero, they are happening." he added. "We do recognise that margins are tighter."
Petrobras is running refineries close to maximum capacity and importing some fuel, he said.
Petrobras has a gasoline hedge in place to cushion the impact of fuel price volatility and is considering a diesel hedge. The cost of the hedge was marginal, Grisolia said.
Banks that Petrobras typically works with for currency operations were executing the fuel hedge, he said, such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Bank of Brazil and Citibank.
Petrobras has hosted meetings with economic advisors to presidential candidates ahead of wide-open elections next month. Grisolia said talks had been positive, but declined to say which teams he had met or comment on their strategies.
Candidates have different plans for the company and the role of the private sector in energy, bringing some uncertainty to investors.
(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Simon Webb in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)