Under Bolsonaro, Petrobras invested less and paid out six times more dividends

The concentration of operations in the pre-salt layer and the sale of assets in non-priority areas has pleased the financial market, but not the unions.

Nicola Pamplona
Rio de Janeiro – RJ

During the four years of Jair Bolsonaro’s (PL) government, Petrobras accumulated R$358.3 billion in inflation-adjusted profits, leading the company to distribute a total of R$289 billion in dividends, almost six times. more than the average of the last four governments.

The strategy to focus operations in the pre-salt layer and sell assets in non-priority sectors pleased the financial market but drew criticism from unions and the opposition at the time, which is now in government promising to change the company’s focus.

According to a survey conducted by Einar Rivero of TradeMap, profits accumulated by Petrobras under Bolsonaro’s government are 2.6 times the average of the last four governments, after accounting for inflation over the period; the account adds up the beginning results. From Dilma Rousseff’s second term and Michel Temer’s years.

With a promise to create value for investors, the state-owned company distributed 5.8 times more dividends and favored the financial market, becoming one of the best-rewarding companies in the world.

The amount distributed represents 80% of the company’s total profit. The highest ratio in previous administrations was seen in Dilma’s first government, when the company returned almost half of its profits to shareholders.

The ratio of high dividends to low investment, equivalent to just one third of the average of the last four governments, is one of the main targets of criticism of the government of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (PT) and its allies.


“Instead of investing, Petrobras decided to reward minority shareholders with BRL 215 billion, making a profit of BRL 195 billion. And how much was Petrobras’ investment? Almost nothing,” criticized the president of the republic after the state-owned company announced the highest profit in the history of Brazilian state-owned companies.

The strategy of prioritizing asset sales and investments in the pre-salt layer was initiated during the administration of Michel Temer, who replaced Dilma Rousseff after her impeachment in 2016, and strengthened after Bolsonaro took office.

A critic of the timidity of Pedro Parente’s leadership when he was an adviser to the company, Roberto Castelo Branco, Petrobras’ first president under Bolsonaro, began his tenure announcing he would speed up asset sales and promising better returns to shareholders.

During Bolsonaro’s four years, according to Dieese (Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Research) researcher Cloviomar Carneiro, the state-owned company closed 64 asset sales operations with a total value of $33.9 billion ($177 billion at ). current exchange).


During the Temer administration, there were 15 operations totaling US$17.6 billion (R$92 billion). Dilma has had 16 operations at a cost of US$8.3 billion (R$43 billion).

Carneiro notes that the sales pitch was also different. In Dilma’s case, they were the reduction of the company’s debt, which reached its highest level in history; Topics included opening the market to private companies; and Bolsonaro wanted to focus on the pre-salt layer in addition to these two.

Mahatma dos Santos, Technical Director of Ineep (National Institute for Strategic Research in Oil, Gas and Biofuels), believes that comparisons of financial data between different governments can be skewed by cyclical issues.

But that from a management point of view, Petrobras increased investment and debt in PT governments after the discovery of the pre-salt layer, which required a large investment and platforms and logistics infrastructure.


Corporate debt reached its highest level in the four years split between Dilma and Temer, when it averaged 531 billion rials, according to TradeMap research.

During this period, Petrobras had an accumulated loss of R$ 38.1 billion, when the losses later investigated by the Lava Jato operation were recognized, which ended due to failure to leave the ground, such as Comperj (petrochemical complex in Rio de Janeiro).

In addition to heavy investment and corruption losses, however, falling fuel prices also contributed to the company’s financial woes, especially in the run-up to Dilma’s re-election in 2014.


Then-Petrobras President Graça Foster spent the year trying to raise prices to keep debt within expectations, but the decision was made by Finance Minister Guido Mantega, who only authorized a hike after a second round.


With pricing policies more in line with international benchmarks, asset sales and investment cuts in subsequent years, debt fell to an average of R$378 billion under Bolsonaro’s administration.

“Petrobras went from a company that had a national strategic project, had a strong influence on Brazil’s productive dynamics, to a smaller company with smaller assets, investment constraints and that no longer looks at the energy sector in an integrated way.” He says.

Ineep is associated with unions and advocates for the company to reinvest. For Santos, the latest administration’s model “puts the company’s operational and financial stability at risk” because investments in the sector have a long maturity period and the world is moving towards an energy transition.

The current government’s first steps towards investment diversification, however, have been met with caution by the market. This week, for example, Petrobras announced a partnership with Norway’s Equinor to explore building offshore wind farms in the country.

The response from investors, who question the high cost of these projects and their impact on dividends, led the president of the state-owned company, Jean-Paul Prats, to record a video saying that it is still an embryonic process, that it requires studies and that it will only be brought forward in an economic sense.

In his first conference call with analysts, Prates had already tried to reassure analysts about resuming investment, saying the company would only invest in profitable projects and after extensive discussions. “If anyone doubts it, we will have to prove that it is good to be a partner of the government.”

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