August 28, 2018 / 4:17 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Brazil's Marfrig sets debt targets, shares fall

(Adds analysts' comments, share price)

SAO PAULO, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Marfrig Global Foods SA , Brazil's second largest meat-packing company, has introduced new debt metric targets in an amended shareholders agreement, according to a securities filing, as it completed asset sales to raise cash and cut debt.

But investors were unimpressed by the financial discipline targets, and Marfrig shares fell almost 6 percent to 5.82 reais at midday on Tuesday.

Marfrig is now committed to keeping net debt equal to or below 2.5 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, a measure of operating income known as EBITDA, by the end of this year, it said in the filing late on Monday.

The company, whose debt load had swollen to $5.8 billion by the end of the second quarter, is also targeting net debt at 3.5 times EBITDA at the end of each quarter starting in 2019.

The targets suggest the company is prioritizing financial discipline over growth through acquisitions and borrowing to pay for them, analysts said.

"We think the news ... contains a very important message: that the company intends to have a different approach to leverage in the future as opposed to the last several years," Banco BTG Pactual SA equity analysts said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Banco Santander Brasil SA told clients on Tuesday that the news may bring "mixed feelings" to investors as the 3.5 times consolidated net debt/consolidated adjusted EBITDA threshold for coming years "seems high."

BTG noted that raising the leverage limit in 2019 suggested possible future acquisitions. "But our initial sense is that Marfrig is basically accommodating some room for margins to normalize, mainly United States margins which are very high at the moment," BTG said. Marfrig earlier this month agreed to sell its Keystone Foods business to Tyson Foods Inc to cut debt.

Fitch said that after this sale and its acquisition of National Beef Co are completed, Marfrig's capital structure would improve as its net debt would be reduced by about $800 million.

If the company fails to meet the new long-term targets, it will be barred from making certain types of investment and distributing dividends above the mandatory legal minimum, the Monday filing said.

For example, Marfrig would be prevented from expanding the business if the new investment totaled more than 20 percent of the company's EBITDA in the prior 12 months, according to the filing.

Marfrig also said it would be unable to make related-party investments above 100 million reais for a 12-month period if the new financial metrics are unmet, the filing said. (Reporting by Ana Mano and Paula Laier; Editing by Jason Neely and Richard Chang)

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