Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras returned to profit in the Q4 of 2020

Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, announced on Wednesday it returned to profit in the fourth quarter of 2020, welcome news two days after its stock took a 20-percent nose-dive.

Petrobras beat analysts’ expectations to post a net profit of 59.9 billion reais ($11 billion, at the current exchange rate) for the period from October to December, reversing three straight quarters of losses fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, reports BSS.

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The result was strong enough for Brazil’s biggest company to end the Covid-shaken year with a surprise annual profit of 7.1 billion reais.

It will likely be the company’s final quarter under chief executive Roberto Castello Branco, a respected economist whom President Jair Bolsonaro decided last week to replace with an army reserve general.

The move fueled fears the far-right president will try to intervene in energy prices as he eyes re-election next year, a prospect that spooked investors and triggered Monday’s stock-market rout.

Castello Branco called the results “an exceptional performance in a very challenging environment.”

“In the middle of a severe global recession and the effects of a major shock for the oil industry, we promised to structure a J-shaped recovery,” he said in a statement.

“We have delivered on our promises.”

Analysts had been forecasting a profit of just 4.9 billion reais for the quarter.

The result was up 635 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019, when Petrobras added $2 billion to close out a year of record net profit ($10.2 billion).

Petrobras is still rebounding from four years of deep losses from 2014 to 2017, triggered by revelations that top politicians and executives stole billions of dollars from the company in a massive corruption scheme.

Just as it was emerging from the crisis, the pandemic sent oil prices plunging to record lows last year, as lockdowns caused a collapse in travel worldwide.

Adding to the company’s headaches, its stock plunged by more than 20 percent on Monday after Bolsonaro named army reserve general Joaquim Silva e Luna to replace Castello Branco.

Bolsonaro said shortly before the change was announced that Petrobras should not be constantly “surprising people” with price increases.

Petrobras has increased fuel prices four times so far in 2021 — a cumulative rise of nearly 35 percent — as global oil prices have climbed back to pre-pandemic levels.

The price hikes have triggered backlash in Brazil, notably among truck drivers, who threatened a crippling strike.

Latin America’s largest country is a top 10 oil producer, with output of 3.67 million barrels per day in 2019.

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