February 7, 2018 / 6:10 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Brazilian steelmaker CSN mulls asset sales, but 'not under pressure'

(Adds details on debt refinancing, possible asset sales, bond issue)

By Tatiana Bautzer and Alberto Alerigi

SAO PAULO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Brazilian steelmaker Cia Siderúrgica Nacional is considering selling assets to reduce debt but is not "under pressure" to do so as it expects to conclude talks to refinance its debt with state banks, a senior executive told Reuters on Wednesday.

"We may opt to sell assets instead of being pressured to do it," director Luis Fernando Martinez said. CSN, as the company is known, put assets up for sale in 2016, but has only made one small deal.

Martinez said the rise in iron ore prices and the debt refinancing with Banco do Brasil SA, one of its biggest creditors, announced last week, has given the company time to sell assets.

Moody's Investors Service upgraded CSN's credit rating last week amid expectations that a similar deal may be reached with another state creditor, Caixa Economica Federal.

But Moody's cautioned that CSN's debt ratio relative to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization "will remain between 4.5 times to 5.5 times until 2019."

CSN Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Steinbruch said last October he wanted the ratio to be 3.5 by the end of 2018.

CSN will consider "all alternatives" for asset sales, Martinez said, citing container terminal and operations in Germany, Portugal and the United States.

CSN sold tinmaker Cia Metalic do Nordeste SA to Poland's Can-Pack SA for $98 million in August 2016. The company held talks to sell container terminal operator Sepetiba Tecon SA the same year, but backed down.

"We are closely watching M&A in the European steel sector and consolidation in the United States. Our assets may have a higher value," Martinez said.

CSN is watching negotiations between Germany's Thyssenkrupp AG and Tata Steel to create a joint venture and recent sales of mills in the United States by Brazilian rival Gerdau SA, Martinez added.

Brazilian antitrust watchdog CADE has mandated the sale of CSN's stake in rival Usinas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais SA , but a deadline has not been disclosed.

On Thursday, CSN expects to price its first bond issue in six years.

In the wake of the company raising steel prices to automakers and distributors in January, Martinez declined to indicate whether it will pursue new price hikes, but said, "if iron ore prices keep rising, it will be hard to avoid them."

CSN plans to focus on the domestic steel market as Brazil's economy recovers from its harshest recession in decades.

Martinez ruled out the closure of its Volta Redonda mill due to a dispute with Rio de Janeiro state's environment agency. He said Rio Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao had assured CSN it has complied with environment remedies. (Reporting by Tatiana Bautzer and Alberto Alerigi Jr.; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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