(Reuters) Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro fired the chief executive of oil producer Petrobras – the second in two months – after the company refused to sell fuels at a discount to consumers warning it would lead to diesel shortages.
Bolsonaro also called for the election of a new board, according to a statement released close to midnight local time on Monday by the state-controlled company, opening the way to a full executive management shake-up.
José Mauro Ferreira Coelho is the third Petrobras CEO fired by Bolsonaro over fuel prices. The president, who is seeking re-election in October but lagging in polls, says Petrobras should use its profits to reduce fuel prices and help control inflation.
Bolsonaro, who also fired an energy minister earlier this year, appointed Caio Mario Paes de Andrade to replace Coelho.
The government controls Petroleo Brasileiro, as the firm is formally known, with a majority of the voting shares, even if private investors own more than 60% of the company.
Brazil is entering a crucial window to secure diesel supplies and Petrobras management alerted the government last week that pumps could run dry during the key soybean harvest season if the company did not sell fuel at market prices, according to four people close to discussions and an internal presentation seen by Reuters.
Petrobras said 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 Brazil as well as in the United States. The South American country begins shipping the world’s largest soybean 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.
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.
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 soybean harvest, 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.