How Brazil’s richest man lost 97% of his fortune in less than two years

Well, that went fast.
Well, that went fast.
Image: Reuters/Fred Prouser
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In 2010, Eike Batista announced that he would soon become the world’s richest man, and it didn’t seem particularly hyberbolic. Brazil’s economy was thriving, and investors around the world were lining up to invest in his commodities empire, which consisted of six highly successful public Brazilian companies, including OGX, the country’s second largest oil company, and MMX, one of its largest miners. By 2012, his wealth stood at some $30 billion, making him the seventh-richest man in the world.

And then the last 18 months happened.

Amidst Brazil’s economic slowdown, Batista’s net worth hasn’t merely tumbled—it’s evaporated. Batista isn’t vying for the richest man any longer, or for a place among the world’s top 100, or even among its billionaires. According to estimates by Forbes, his worth has now dropped to an estimated $900 million, a 97% drop.

Most of that is due to the struggles of OGX, the biggest of Batista’s companies. In July the company announced its plans to shutter two of its most productive wells. Last week, a run of more bad news caused the stock to lose 63% of its market value, including a whopping 40% drop on Friday alone; it enjoyed a rebound today, but that was largely due to quirks of the Brazilian stock market. And its financial woes are threatening its very existence. This past June, OGX reported nearly $5 billion in debt and a net loss of over $2 billion during the second quarter. If the company defaults on its heaping pile of debt, it would mark the largest such default in Latin American history, according to Forbes.

But Batista’s financial woes extend well beyond OGX. Much of his estimated remaining $900 million lies in shares of his other publicly traded companies, none of which has managed to turn a profit. Batista, however, pledged his personal wealth to back the plethora of loans made to each, and is now himself scrambling to sell assets in order to pay creditors. Back in March, he relinquished control of his energy company, MPX, and just last month he agreed to sell the Chilean portion of his mining company, MMX, to Inversiones Cooper Mining, and resigned as chairman of his logistics company, LLX, which was bought by EIG Global Energy Partners LLC.

Filing for bankruptcy could buy Batista time to sell off some assets, unload shares of his companies, and settle debts. But the mogul appears intent on fixing his empire without declaring bankruptcy. This past July, Batista declared that he would honor every penny of the billions in outstanding debt. Presently, it looks like the only way to do that is to unwind the commodities empire that once looked unassailable.