Americanas downgraded by Fitch; company leaves interest unpaid in Brazilian bonds

By Gabriel Araujo and Tatiana Bautzer

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Fitch Ratings downgraded Americanas SA’s long-term foreign currency and local currency ratings into junk territory on Tuesday following the announcement of an injunction protecting the Brazilian retailer from creditors.

Americanas on Tuesday disclosed that it did not pay interest due on Monday of more than 2 billion reais ($392 million) in local bonds. It made the disclosure in a filing responding to a question by securities regulator CVM, saying it was allowed not to pay under the injunction.

Fitch said that if Americanas formally announces a debt restructuring plan, its ratings will be downgraded to RD or D, reflecting a default. Fitch said the retailer, backed by the billionaire founders of 3G Capital, has an unsustainable capital structure with the addition of an estimated 20 billion reais in previously undisclosed liabilities.

Also on Tuesday, the company said its board approved Camille Loyo Faria as new chief financial officer, with a term starting on Feb. 1. Faria was CFO at Brazilian telecom company TIM and informed the company of her resignation on Tuesday.

In a post on LinkedIn on Tuesday, Americanas’ outgoing chief executive, Sergio Rial, said the company’s billionaire backers gave him “unconditional support” after nearly $4 billion in accounting inconsistencies were uncovered.

Rial said Americanas’ reference shareholders, three Brazilian billionaires who founded 3G Capital – Jorge Paulo Lemann, Carlos Alberto Sicupira and Marcel Telles – fully backed him on a “course correction” following the discovery of the accounting scandal.

Rial resigned last Wednesday, less than two weeks after taking the position, following the discovery of distortions he attributed to differences in accounting for the financial cost of bank loans and debt with suppliers.

Americanas, which may be held liable for repayment of up to 40 billion reais ($7.82 billion) in debt earlier than planned, was granted an injunction protecting it from creditors and setting a 30-day deadline for it to file for potential bankruptcy protection.

“We reached the scenario seen in the securities filing with transparency and reliability,” Rial said after his short tenure as CEO, taking over from Miguel Gutierrez during the second half of 2022.

Rial is a former head of Banco Santander Brasil SA, the local unit of Spain’s Banco Santander, where he still serves as chairman of the board.

Rial left Americanas alongside Chief Financial Officer Andre Covre, who had just joined the firm as well.

“With the initial diagnosis there was an urgent need for a course correction,” Rial said, adding that the board and shareholders supported him. He also indirectly denied knowledge of the accounting problems before January.

CRISIS MODE

Shares of Americanas rose more than 10% on Tuesday, but were still down nearly 77% year-to-date, since Rial announced the accounting inconsistencies.

Since then, the company has asked for protection from creditors, a move questioned by banks. Securities regulator CVM opened three probes to investigate the matter and two industry groups have sued, asking for reparation.

After news that company managers sold around 215 million reais ($42 million) in shares in the months before the accounting problems surfaced, markets are looking in to variable compensation of management during the period leading up to the discovery of the irregularities.

Documents filed with the securities regulator show Americanas paid 169.6 million reais ($33 million) in compensation to managers over the last five years, including a portion of variable compensation, even though Americanas had losses from 2017 to 2020.

The company last year paid 516.6 million reais in dividends related to the results in 2021, according to securities filings.

($1 = 5.1180 reais)

(Reporting by Gabriel Araujo, Tatiana Bautzer and Alberto Alerigi Jr. in Sao Paulo; Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)

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