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Eike Batista’s debt-ridden empire crumbling in Brazil

November 3, 2013 at 1:05 am | News Desk

Eike Batista's debt-ridden empire crumbling in Brazil Rio de Janeiro: Eike Batista’s debt-ridden EBX empire appears to be on its last legs as the Brazilian magnate desperately tries to sell assets and lure investment to keep his sinking ship afloat.

In three years, EBX, a vast conglomerate of commodities and energy companies, has seen its value shrink from $43.5 billion to less than $3 billion today.

Wednesday, oil giant OGX, once the jewel in the EBX crown, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection after debt-restructuring talks with its creditors failed.

With a total debt pile estimated at $5.4 billion, OGX has 60 days to present a restructuring plan while creditors have 30 days to come forward and then vote on whether to accept the plan. The process can last six months.

Thursday, credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded OGX from “C” to “Ca,” its worst rating informally described as “junk.”

Also Thursday, the Sao Paulo bourse decided to exclude OGX from its main Ibovespa index as the company’s stock closed at a record low of 0.13 real, not even the price of bubble gum, the Brazilian press quipped.

Friday, the MMX iron ore mining firm, an arm of the EBX empire, announced it was selling all shares in its Chilean unit to Chile’s Inversiones Cooper Mining.

And Batista’s OSX oil services and shipbuilding said it too was mulling resorting to bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile on Tuesday an announcement was made that Batista sold his coal mines in Colombia to Turkish firm Yildirim Holding for $450 million.

The succession of bad news has come as a huge reality check for Batista, who had hopes of “becoming the wealthiest person on the planet.”

Known for his passion for speedboats, the flamboyant tycoon, who turns 57 Sunday, came to symbolize the world’s infatuation with emerging behemoth Brazil, luring foreign investors to his grandiose oil projects.

His companies, which all bear the letter X (to multiply profits), quickly grew on financial markets thanks to oil production promises that did not materialize and ultimately turned investors away.

“OGX sold very well without having a single barrel of oil,” analyst Marcelo Pereira of the Sao Paulo-based Tag Investimentos consulting firm told AFP.

OGX’s troubles began in the middle of last year, just as Brazil’s economic growth stalled, when the company announced that its oil production would be a quarter of what it had promised.

A year later it suspended development at three offshore oil fields not deemed commercially viable and said it may shut down its Tubarao Azul deep-water oil field off the Brazilian coast.

OGX has been the worst-hit in the Batista group, forcing a search for new investment to keep its projects afloat.

Batista’s market woes have cut an estimated $30 billion from his wealth and the magnate who until earlier this year was purportedly the world’s seventh-richest man is now said to be worth less than $900 million.

Asked about EBX’s future prospects, Paulo Feldmann, an economic expert at the University of Sao Paulo, told Globo television: “I am not very optimistic. It was a bubble and the bubble burst.”

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