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FINANCIAL CHRONICLE™ » DAILY CHRONICLE™ » Bankruptcy Filing Is a Stunning Fall for a Brazilian Tycoon

Bankruptcy Filing Is a Stunning Fall for a Brazilian Tycoon

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Senior Manager - Equity Analytics
Senior Manager - Equity Analytics

Updated, 8:35 p.m. | The flagship company of the Brazilian entrepreneur Eike Batista, who once boasted that he was on his way to becoming the richest man in the world, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday.
The filing by the petroleum company OGX was a stunning fall for Mr. Batista, who was once a symbol of Brazil’s rapid rise as a global economic power but more recently has come to represent a Brazilian elite that views itself as above the rules that govern the most of the country.
The bankruptcy filing was the culmination of a decline that had been apparent for months. It became nearly certain after OGX missed a $45 million bond payment on Oct. 1. According to papers filed with the Court of Justice of Rio de Janeiro, the company’s total debt is 11.2 billion reais ($5.1 billion), making this filing the largest corporate default in the history of Latin America.

The company owes $3.6 billion to bondholders, most of them foreigners, with the rest of the debt to suppliers and banks.

Pimco, the world’s largest bond investor, and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, both invested in OGX and stand to lose from any bankruptcy filing.

Mr. Batista’s rise and fall closely mirrors the fortunes of his country, which was growing rapidly a couple of years ago, driven by the worldwide boom in commodities, but has since faltered. The Brazilian stock market has fallen more than 11 percent this year, even as the major stock markets around the world have been gaining. And street protests this summer reflected Brazilians’ resentment that the government had channeled resources to projects controlled by tycoons like Mr. Batista.

On Wednesday, his countrymen seemed to be watching Mr. Batista’s downfall with glee, with websites and Twitter accounts filled with jokes about his travails. One tweet: “Eike trading in his Xbox for an Atari.” And another: “OGX shares now worth less than a piece of candy ha ha ha!”

OGX went public in 2008, raising $4.1 billion in the Brazilian stock market in what was then the country’s largest-ever initial public offering of stock. Now, its future is under a cloud.

The bankruptcy process in Brazil could be long and tortuous. Of the about 4,000 companies that have entered court-supervised restructuring since the procedure was established in the country in 2005, only about 1 percent have successfully left the bankruptcy court’s supervision, according to a study by the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo.

Only 23 percent even managed the first step, which is to have a creditors’ assembly approve the restructuring plan. Many cases are fought over in Brazil’s notoriously slow justice system, where appeals can drag on for years.

Márcio Costa, a partner in the Rio de Janeiro law firm Sérgio Bermudes, which handled the bankruptcy filing, said on Wednesday, “OGX has high debts, but restructured, the assets are sufficient for the company to be viable.” He said he was optimistic that negotiations with creditors would be successful.

OGX has pursued many avenues to try to stave off bankruptcy. Rumors have swirled about possible new investors, especially after the company dismissed its chief executive and chief legal counsel on Oct. 15.

OGX confirmed on Oct. 17 that it was talking to the Brazilian investment firm Vinci Partners and other firms about restructuring options, but no deal has been reached.

Its sister company, OSX, whose primary business is building ships and marine architecture for OGX’s petroleum exploration operations, said this week in a note that it did not expect to seek a bankruptcy court’s protection “at this moment.” OSX’s debts were listed in its balance sheet at $2.4 billion at the end of the second quarter, and it, too, has little cash flow. But unlike its sister company, OSX has easily marketable assets, including oil rigs, and most of its short-term debts are with government-controlled banks that have already agreed to reschedule some payments.

Thomas Felsberg, a bankruptcy lawyer in São Paulo, said Brazilian bankruptcy courts almost always approve a company’s initial request for protection, as long as the documents are in order, and such approval does not contain any judgment about a company’s chances of emerging from bankruptcy.

If the request is approved, the company has a 180-day period in which it is protected from creditors’ demands.

Documents released on Tuesday on OGX’s website indicate that the company will run out of cash in December and needs $250 million in new money to continue operations through April 2014.

That money could come from selling its natural gas subsidiary OGX Maranhão and from a possible investment by the Malaysian petroleum company Petronas in one of OGX’s offshore petroleum blocks, the company’s documents said. The bankruptcy filing concluded with the statement that OGX had reached an agreement to sell its share in OGX Maranhão, though no details were given.

Mr. Batista won international fame for his plans to build an empire of energy, mining and logistics companies. For several years, OGX announced one petroleum find after another, and the share prices of all six of Mr. Batista’s publicly traded companies soared on the São Paulo stock exchange. But none of the companies managed to become profitable in time to service their billions in debt.

Mr. Batista’s personal worth, which at one point last year exceeded $30 billion, is now estimated at well under $1 billion. Minority shareholders in OGX are suing both the company and Mr. Batista for what may have been misleading statements about OGX’s supposed petroleum finds and for possible instances of insider trading.

Brazil’s securities regulator, known as the C.V.M., announced in September that it was investigating Mr. Batista and other senior managers of OGX for possible violations of disclosure rules.

Marcus Sequeira, Latin America petroleum analyst for Deutsche Bank, said it was clear several years ago that OGX was not going to be as successful as hoped.

In April 2011, OGX issued a report in which it claimed over 10 billion barrels in reserves. But to reach that number, the company added together different kinds of reserves, most merely possible rather than confirmed or even probable.

Although this discrepancy was in the 2011 report for anyone to see, few paid attention to it, Mr. Sequeira said. “It is the same in every bubble. At some point, everyone only wants to hear the good news.”

Looking forward, Mr. Sequeira said he was “not optimistic” about OGX’s fate, since “the resource base is clearly not as big as the company was saying.”

But since there is some oil in OGX’s fields, Mr. Sequeira said, it might be possible, if a new investor is found, for production to resume and bondholders eventually to get a portion of their money back, though shareholders would probably be wiped out.

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