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Graft scandals and low oil prices drag Petrobras debt rating to junk

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Petrobras’ debt rating, the second time in a year the debt-plagued company has seen its rating fall. 

Moody’s doubled down on its junk rating for the state-owned oil giant and lowered Petrobras’ rating from Ba2 to Ba3, with a negative outlook. 

Moody’s cited depressed energy industry conditions, a “high execution risk” for the company’s plan to divest $15 billion in assets by the end of 2016, and a high level of debt maturities in the coming years coupled with the prospects of negative cash flow.

The ongoing corruption probe into Petrobras, known as Operation Car Wash, and the possibility of losses and fines tied to the investigation also prompted the rating slide.

Last month, Andre Esteves, one of the richest men in Brazil, was arrested in connection with the Petrobras graft probe. A senator, Delcidio Amaral, was also detained. Both were placed under temporary arrest duirng the investigation.

Esteves, 47, is worth an estimated $2.5 billion. He’s one of Brazil’s best-known business people.

His finance company, BTG Pactual, was one of the initial investors in Sete Brasil, a state-owned rig company established to provide vessels to Petrobras.

Petrobras has only sold 3 percent of the $15 billion in assets it intends to divest, and the largest of those sales is now facing a court challenge, Reuters said.

“Free cash flow will remain negative in the foreseeable future as international oil prices remain weak, even though downstream losses are limited by stable local prices for oil products; further local currency devaluation is another significant risk to downstream results,” Nymia Almeid of Moody’s said.

Moody’s said it has put Petrobras on review for another potential downgrade.       

The review will focus on the ability and willingness of the Brazilian government to provide Petrobras with “adequate timely support in case of need.”

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Nicolas Torres is a reporter for Petro Global News, where a version of this post first appeared.

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