(Updates with share price, comments on federal police probe investigating CEO)
By Alberto Alerigi and Eduardo Simões
SAO PAULO, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Brazilian steelmaker Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional will wait for better prices to sell assets as the company tries to stretch out debt maturities with banks and bets on the country’s economic recovery to improve results, its chief executive officer told analysts on Tuesday.
CSN, as the company is known, has a current debt level equivalent to 5 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a common gauge of operational profit known as EBITDA, and has to pay 5.6 billion reais ($1.7 billion) in debt next year and 7.3 billion reais in 2019.
Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Steinbruch said he’s “confident” that two of the company’s largest lenders will agree by next month to extend CSN’s debt maturities. Steinbruch declined to say which are the banks, but said the company has been discussing a debt refinancing with the lenders for nine months.
Steinbruch also said he intends to start talks with the company’s bondholders in the first half of 2018, but declined to elaborate. CSN previously extended debt maturities with state-owned banks in 2016.
To reach its target of reducing its debt to 3.5 times EBITDA by the end of next year, CSN would have to sell assets. “We had many concrete proposals for many assets, but we think we should wait for the right moment to sell”, Steinbruch said.
CSN’s CEO, which is also a major shareholder, said the steelmaker expects to grow its EBITDA this year by 25 percent, to 5 billion reais.
CSN common shares fell 1.4 percent to 8.43 reais on Tuesday, extending this year’s losses to 22 percent.
The steelmaker is raising capital expenses to increase iron ore and steel production. The company will spend 370 million reais to raise production in its Casa de Pedra iron ore mine and 205 million reais to expand steel production capacity by 15 percent.
Brazil’s federal police said on Friday it is investigating allegations that Steinbruch paid bribes to former finance minister Antonio Palocci, as part of Brazil’s widest corruption probe, known as Car Wash.
In the conference, CSN executives denied any wrongdoing and said the steelmaker has not made any provisions related to the corruption probe.
Contacted by Reuters, Palocci’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ($1 = 3.2731 Brazilian reais) (Writing by Tatiana Bautzer; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)