Exclusive: Petrobras warned of diesel shortages before CEO ouster

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May 24 (Reuters) - Brazil's Petrobras alerted the government last week that diesel pumps could run dry this year if the oil company does not sell fuels at market prices, according to four people close to discussions and an internal presentation seen by Reuters.

Just days later, President Jair Bolsonaro fired the chief executive of Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA), as the state-controlled company is formally known. read more

Bolsonaro's chief of staff said the president is "anguished" by rising fuel prices and the pricing policy at Petrobras needs to be more aligned with the government's thinking. read more

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As Brazil enters a crucial window to secure diesel supplies, Petrobras management warned last week that the firm and other importers would struggle to secure diesel amid the most severe shortage of the fuel in 14 years, the sources said.

Analysts, private importers and officials at oil regulator ANP have echoed those concerns, said people familiar with the talks, who requested anonymity to discuss the politically sensitive matter.

The Petrobras presentation flagged the risk of shortage in the third quarter, when diesel demand surges seasonally in both the United States and Brazil, a major grains exporter expected to start shipping a bumper corn crop in August.

"If there is no signal of market prices ahead, there is material risk of a diesel shortage during the peak of demand during the harvest season, affecting Brazil's GDP," Petrobras said in the presentation titled "Fuels: challenges and solutions" and dated May 2022.

Petrobras did not respond to a request for comment.

Diesel supply has become a global concern since sanctions against Russia reshaped fuel trade and sent international inventories to historic lows. Importing countries are sizing up the risk of both rising costs and supply running short, as the industry shuts refineries for repairs or to cut carbon emissions. read more

Concerns in Brazil about diesel imports in the second half of the year rose after U.S. Gulf refiners, its major suppliers, started redirecting cargoes to Europe, two of the sources said.

"Global diesel inventories are far below the historic average," Petrobras said in the presentation shared with the Ministry of Mines and Energy. "Petrobras alone cannot solve the global rise of energy prices."

Energy Minister Adolfo Sachsida on Friday called oil analysts to ask about diesel shortages in the second half of the year, said a person directly involved in the matter. The ministry did not respond to a comment request.

"If Petrobras stops selling diesel at international prices for more than two or three weeks, there is a chance pumps will run dry," a top executive from a large diesel producer said.

SUGGESTING SUBSIDIES

Executives at Petrobras, whose bylaws bar it from selling fuel at a loss without compensation, suggested in the presentation that Brazil could cut taxes or otherwise subsidize fuels to consumers, citing the example of several European Union nations.

Fuel subsidies cost Brazil about 7.5 billion reais ($1.6 billion) in 2018, when former President Michel Temer implemented them for a few months to halt a national trucker protest.

The cost of a similar measure this year could surpass 60 billion reais, estimated one of the people close to the discussions.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent crude oil prices to a 14-year high. This month, global shortages led diesel traders to pay a premium of more than $50 per barrel.

At their maximum, Brazilian diesel inventories can cover about a month of national demand. At Petrobras, supplies are at about half capacity, according to two sources.

Brazil books cargoes in June for the August-October harvest season, when most grains reach port via long trucking routes.

The company has begun turning to more distant providers in Western Africa and India, one of the sources said. But while a Gulf diesel cargo takes two to three weeks to arrive in Brazil, a ship from India could take 45-60 days.

"If refineries in the U.S. get damaged during the hurricane season, or anything else contributes to a tighter market, we could be in real trouble," a Petrobras executive said on condition of anonymity.

($1 = 4.79 reais)

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Reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston; Editing by Brad Haynes, Christopher Cushing, Kirsten Donovan and Louise Heavens

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