By Jeb Blount
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista, the controlling shareholder of OGX Petróleo e Gas Participações SA (SAO:OGXP3), sold 1.54 percent of the oil company's stock to pay debts of his Grupo EBX, according to a securities filing on Thursday.
Batista made the sale on Wednesday, bringing his total sale of stock in OGX to 5.67 percent since March, the filing added. He plans to sell at least another 5 percent of his OGX stake, but plans to keep at least 50.01 percent of the company's capital, the filing said.
OGX, whose shares fell as much as 21 percent on Thursday, has led a year-long meltdown of Batista's Grupo EBX which includes energy, shipbuilding, mining and port operations. The group, once worth more than $60 billion, has seen its value nearly evaporate in the last year and a half.
The stock fell 12.3 percent on Thursday to finish at 0.49 reais, its lowest close in six weeks.
Batista's or EBX's problems are unlikely to tarnish the image of Brazil's stock market - the largest in Latin America and the most liquid among emerging markets, said Edemir Pinto, chief executive of Brazil's sole financial exchange BM&FBovespa SA (BVMF3.SA).
The problems facing the conglomerate, which also comprises a entertainment company, interests in tourism and even a renowned restaurant in the city of Rio de Janeiro, "were not expected by anyone, not even by Eike Batista himself," Pinto said. "All the money he raised in the market he poured into his group, he didn't grab even a cent for himself."
SHARES AND THE INDEX
Pinto, speaking at a BM&FBovespa event in the Brazilian city of Campos do Jordão, added that it is unlikely that, under current bourse rules, shares of OGX are excluded from the benchmark Bovespa index (.BVSP). The tumble in OGX, which has the fourth-largest weighting in the Bovespa, has been a key driver in the index's 18 percent decline this year.
OGX stock could only be excluded from the Bovespa in the case where the struggling oil producer files a request for bankruptcy protection or goes out of business. Asked whether an eventual debt restructuring at OGX could trigger the stock's expulsion from the Bovespa index, Pinto said "not at all."
Lower than expected oil output at OGX raised concerns about the group's abilities to generate cash flow to fund expansion and pay debt, creating a crisis of confidence in other EBX companies, many of which depended on each other for revenue.
The OGX slide has led to a wider reorganization of EBX, with Batista agreeing to give up control of port operator LLX Logística SA (SAO:LLXL3) and electricity generator MPX Energia SA (SAO:MPXE3) to foreign companies in exchange for new investment.
While he has maintained most of his holdings, Batista has made small sales in recent months to pay debts.
Batista has been using Brazilian investment bank Grupo BTG Pactual SA (BBTG11.SA) to help him reorganize his companies and finances. The accord, signed in March, has provided Batista and EBX with access to loans, advice and other services.
Shares of OGX and other EBX companies came under additional pressure on Thursday after the Veja weekly news magazine said BTG Pactual and Batista will end their relationship. Veja did not name any source in its report.
BTG Pactual's returns on the partnership depend on the performance of EBX Group stock. EBX Group stock has fallen sharply since the accord was made in March. BTG Pactual and the EBX Group declined to comment on the news report.
The sale of OGX stock is the second asset sale announced by Batista's EBX this week. On Tuesday, OSX Brasil SA (SAO:OSXB3), EBX's shipbuilding unit, said Batista would sell $50 million of stock in the shipyard to help pay for a promised capital injection into the company.
Batista's Centennial Asset Mining Fund LLC and Centennial Asset Brazilian Equity Fund LLX, companies that form the basis of the EBX Group's holdings, held 58.92 percent of OGX as of July 10, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Additional reporting by Asher Levine and Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Natalia Gómez in Campos do Jordão; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Matthew Lewis and Chris Gallagher)