With his playboy lifestyle of private jets, yachts and expensive cars, oil and gas billionaire Eike Batista makes for an unlikely protagonist in the story of Brazil’s growing economic crisis.
But just as his country is feeling the impact of a dwindling commodities boom, Mr Batista is fighting to save a business empire which he once boasted would make him the richest man in the world.
After borrowing billions in the good times to fund the expansion of his businesses, which range from mining to the redevelopment of Rio’s Maracana football stadium, there are doubts that he can repay his creditors.
The scale of the decline reached a new low on Tuesday after his oil company OGX revised expectations on oil production, slashed spending and suspended drilling at three offshore projects, raising the likelihood of restructuring.
Shares in the oil and gas arm of Mr Batista’s EBX Group dropped by a record 30pc, wiping almost £200m ($300m) off its market value.
“OGX is on the ropes and could face imminent financial restructuring,” Michael Wang, an analyst at IHS Herold, told Bloomberg. “The company may go bankrupt and not be able to pay its debt.” The company denied speculation it was considering filing for bankruptcy protection.
Last month, Fitch downgraded OGX to a lowly CCC rating, citing “increased uncertainty about the willingness and ability of Eike Batista to honour the company’s $1bn put option”.
This fuelled speculation about his finances, especially after he also sold off 70.5m shares in OGX, reducing his stake in the company from 61pc to 57pc.
The slide in the market value of companies owned by EBX has seen his own fortune slashed by £13bn. From seventh place on the 2012 Forbes list of billionaires, Mr Batista, who was once married to a Rio carnival queen, was most recently estimated to have a net worth of £7bn, placing him at 100th on the list in March. His rapid fall from grace mirrors the economic fortunes of Brazil, which was growing at 7.5pc in the boom. Growth was just 0.9pc last year and, with inflation rising towards 6.5pc, the country is now being described as under “speculative attack”.
Mr Batista is among the victims and has seen his publicly traded companies wither. But the colourful businessman is also involved in the controversial “white elephant” projects linked to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Heavy investment in stadiums and infrastructure for the two sporting events was among the grievances of the widespread protests that have swept Brazil in the past fortnight. Mr Batista was part of a consortium that will manage the £286m Maracana stadium, which will host the World Cup final, for 35 years.
Meanwhile, the future of Rio’s famous Gloria hotel is hanging in the balance after it was bought for £26m by REX, the real estate division of EBX Group, in 2008. Renovations to the hotel began in 2010 to reopen as the Gloria Palace Hotel, but it will not be ready for fans travelling to the World Cup.
After failing to attract a partner, EBX has reportedly put the hotel up for sale, according to the Brazilian press.
Originally published in The Daily Telegraph/Business