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Brazil Oil Startup HRT Moves Closer to Namibia Stake Sale

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RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazilian oil startup HRT Participacoes em Petroleo SA reported late Monday a wider year-on-year net loss for the third quarter, but the company is moving closer to a sale of a stake in its Namibia assets that should help ease cash concerns.

A topsy-turvy year has forced HRT to rein in exploration spending to save cash, but potential deals could help ease investor concerns about how the company will make money off prized exploration acreage off the coast of West Africa and natural gas discoveries in the Amazon. HRT plans to spend about 670 million Brazilian reais ($327 million) on exploration efforts in the two regions next year, executives said.

Speaking during a conference call with analysts, HRT America Chief Executive Wagner Peres said the company expects to complete the sale of a stake in its 12 offshore exploration blocks in Namibia by December. "We have received a few offers, and we have reached a commercial agreement for one of them," Mr. Peres said. "We are making significant progress on this front."

HRT has made available recent processing of three-dimensional seismic surveys to companies interested in the blocks while it analyzes all of the offers on the table, Mr. Peres added.

The company expects to drill its first well toward the end of the first quarter of 2013 at the Wingat prospect off the coast of Namibia, an area that shows similar geology to Brazil's Campos Basin, the executive added. Many of the executives who formed HRT are familiar with the Campos Basin from previous work at state-run energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro, which produces more than 80% of Brazil's crude oil from the basin.

"As we speak, HRT is drill-ready," Mr Peres said. HRT Chief Executive Marcio Rocha Mello added that the company's current investment budget includes funding for two wells, but that total could be increased to four wells depending on the results of the stake sale.

HRT also holds operator stakes of 55% in 21 blocks in the Solimoes Basin in Brazil's Amazonas state, with Russian joint venture TNK-BP holding the remaining 45%. In October, the two companies announced a joint study with Petrobras to evaluate how to generate cash from neighboring natural-gas discoveries in the remote region.

The group is evaluating "all of the alternatives that exist for transforming or getting the gas out to market," said Milton Franke, who heads HRT's oil and gas unit. The alternatives include converting natural gas to liquid form, building natural-gas-fueled power plants to produce electricity or building new pipelines, Mr. Franke said.

HRT, meanwhile, will continue to trim costs to maintain a cash position capable of funding its plans for at least two years, executives said. In 2012, HRT has reduced staff by one-third, cut outsourced employees by 40% and reduced its fleet of onshore drilling rigs by half to two. That has trimmed HRT's daily cash burn rate by 34% to BRL2 million per day through the first nine months of 2012.

HRT shares traded 0.2% higher at BRL5.92 as of 1845 GMT after reporting late Monday a net loss of BRL140.2 million versus a BRL101.3 million loss in the year-ago quarter. While the shares have gained more than 30% over the past month, the stock remains down nearly 50% so far in 2012.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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