China Continues its Commodities Binge with Brazilian Oil Deal

By Jason Simpkins
Managing Editor
Money Morning

China Development Bank, one of China's largest state-owned enterprises, has agreed to lend $10 billion to Brazil's Petrobras (PBR) in exchange for a long-term supply of oil - the latest illustration of how Beijing is using the global downturn to further its domestic agenda.

Money Morning first reported in January, that China was building stakes in some of the world's largest natural-resource companies, which have been made vulnerable by depressed commodities prices, tumbling profits and falling stock prices. In the scant few weeks since that Money Morning report was published, Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. (ADR: ACH), or Chinalco, has invested $19.5 billion in Australian/British mining giant Rio Tinto PLC (ADR: RTP), and China Minmetals Corp. acquired Australian zinc miner Oz Minerals Ltd.

China Development Bank has been particularly active. Earlier this week, the bank lent $15 billion to OAO Rosneft Oil Co., Russia's state-owned oil company, and $10 billion to the Russian state pipeline monopoly Transneft (PINK: TRNFF). In return for the needed financing, Russia agreed to supply China with 15 million tons of oil annually for 20 years.

China Development Bank struck a similar deal with Petrobras Friday, agreeing to loan the Latin American energy giant $10 billion to help finance deepwater oil exploration off the coast of Brazil.

Oil exploration will be carried out with the participation of Sinopec (ADR: SHI), the Chinese state oil company, the Macauhub reported.

The contract will be finalized within the next two months so it can be signed when Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visits China in May, according to Petrobras Chief Executive Officer Sergio Gabrielli.

In addition to the exploration partnership, the deal signed between Petrobras and Sinopec includes the supply of 60,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil per day in the current year. Petrobras also signed a memorandum of understanding with state company China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) for the supply of 40,000 to 60,000 barrels per day.

Brazil isn't necessarily the country that comes to mind when taking inventory of the world's top oil producers. It currently has about 12 billion barrels of proven reserves, but that figure could grow substantially now that a number of very rich deposits have been found off Brazil's shores.

Petrobras happened across the second-largest oil find in two decades last year when it found between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels of untapped light oil in the Tupi basin. Even more impressive are the unofficial figures from a new reservoir, known as Carioca. That field could hold 33 billion barrels of oil and gas, which would make it the world's largest discovery in at least 32 years.

With discoveries like these Brazil, currently ranked 13th on the list of the world's top oil producers could, could easily move into the top ten.

The only problem with the Tupi and Caricoa oil fields is production costs. The Carioca discovery, for instance, is located 170 miles offshore, more than 6,000 feet under the surface of the water, and is trapped beneath a shelf of salt 500 miles long and 125 miles wide.

Developing oil fields such as these will be very costly and with crude oil trading below $40 a barrel financing is imperative. In that sense China couldn't have timed its investment in Petrobras any better.

Petrobras said it plans to invest $174.4 billion from 2009 through 2013, compared with the $112.4 billion planned for investment for 2008-12. The company will invest $28.6 billion in 2009 alone.

In 2008, trade between China and Brazil totaled $36 billion making China Brazil's second largest trading partner.

News and Related Story Links:

  • Macauhub:
    Brazil: Petrobras negotiates US$10 billion with China Development Bank for oil exploration