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Petrobras: The secret price of oil

Why a figure of $8.51 per barrel proved the most controversial part of Petrobras’ deal with the government.

The most controversial part of the capitalization strategy was undoubtedly the price of $8.51 a barrel for the transfer of 5 billion barrels or equivalent. The price was set in secret negotiations between Petrobras and ANP that centred on the valuations from DeGolyer & MacNaughton and Gaffrey Cline & Associates. During July and increasingly in August the analysts were quoted in the press giving their opinions of "fair prices". Most of these valuations coalesced around $6 a barrel – some lower and some pushing into the mid-$7 range. Meanwhile, press reports began to appear that the government deemed $9 to $10 fair. One banker comments: "$8.51 was higher than people were hoping for but lower than the government had signalled it would ultimately get so I think the government played it quite well. People were hoping for $6 or $7 and the government squawked about $9 or $10 and it came in at eight-and-a-half."

Petrobras and its banks were in the quiet period and were unable to comment on the increasingly frenzied speculation, which was a frustrating experience for many: "The price was being determined by these very detailed studies which use the size of each field, the depth of the oil, the distance from the coast and all sorts of geological information to determine the value, and we were talking about more than 20 areas being studied," says one banker.

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