CORRECTED-Brazil's Votorantim launches property arm in bet on post-COVID rebound

(Corrects EBITDA growth to 35%, not 39%)

SAO PAULO, April 8 (Reuters) - Votorantim SA, one of Brazil’s biggest diversified holding companies, is launching a real estate arm, its chief executive said in an interview on Thursday, betting on further growth in demand for housing and a revamped office market.

Altre, as the newly-launched firm is called, is initially being seeded with unused Votorantim-owned industrial land, but CEO Joao Schmidt said it is looking for new assets, including the development of office buildings.

“After the pandemic, companies will change the way people work, with more room for remote work, but employees will still need a place to gather,” Schmidt told Reuters.

He added that tenants are likely to demand more space between workers and higher ceilings for better ventilation.

Votorantim’s push into real estate is part of an effort to diversify and provide a more stable stream of dividends. Apart from real estate, Votorantim is eyeing acquisition targets in infrastructure, energy, healthcare and cement plants outside Brazil.

On Thursday, the company announced it had swung to a 3.1 billion real ($552.78 million) loss in 2020 from a 4.9 billion real net income a year earlier, due to impairment charges on reduced cash generation expectations for mines in Peru and to higher debt payments in dollar-indexed debt.

Still, revenues grew by 19% to 36.7 billion reais and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) soared 35%.

Votorantim’s net debt ended 2020 at 1.63 times its EBITDA, the lowest level for that ratio since 2008, and is expected to end this year in the same range.

Chief Financial Officer Sergio Malacrida said the group posted an undisclosed profit in the first quarter of 2021, but the holding declined to provide any full-year outlook.

“There is a lot of uncertainty ahead, including the speed of vaccination and lower cash emergency payments by the government to help weather the pandemic,” Schmidt said.

He was also unsure whether Brazilians would renovate their homes at the same pace as they did in 2020, when many people upgraded amid lockdowns, boosting cement sales. ($1 = 5.6080 reais) (Reporting by Carolina Mandl Editing by Mark Heinrich)