(Adds comments by director, analyst, updates share prices)
By Alberto Alerigi
SAO PAULO, March 27 (Reuters) - Brazilian steelmaker Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (CSN) expects to sell between 2 billion reais and 3 billion reais ($600 million-$901 million) in assets this year to reduce its debt, CEO Benjamin Steinbruch said on Tuesday.
On a conference call with analysts, Steinbruch said debt ratios will be lower this year as the company plans to sell assets and improve operational results. CSN predicts revenue will rise 20 percent this year.
Steinbruch said CSN’s target for the ratio between the debt and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a common gauge of operational profitability known as EBITDA, is 3.5 times by next year.
Last year, CSN said it expected to reach a debt ratio equivalent to 3.5 times its annual EBITDA by the end of 2018. Last December, the steelmaker had a debt equivalent to 5.6 times EBITDA.
Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & CO said in a note to clients on Tuesday that CSN debt ratios were “disappointing” and that only “additional progress in the debt refinancing and asset sales would reduce worries over the company’s capital structure.”
Steinbruch did not elaborate on potential assets that could be sold, but sources with knowledge of the matter said a sale of CSN’s stake in rival steelmaker Usinas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais, known as Usiminas, would be the next step.
Steinbruch also did not disclose further steps in the company’s debt refinancing. CSN in February announced an agreement with state-controlled Banco do Brasil SA to extend debt maturities.
At the time, CSN added it was in talks with state-owned Caixa Economica Federal for a similar deal.
Common shares reversed early gains and were down 1 percent at 8.48 reais on Tuesday afternoon, as the benchmark Bovespa index was down 1 percent.
CSN also expects to improve results by raising steel prices in the domestic Brazilian market, director Luiz Fernando Martinez said on Tuesday, adding the steelmaker plans a 7.5 percent hike in June. In the first quarter, CSN’s average prices will rise between 6 and 10 percent, Martinez said.
Martinez added the company expects to sell in Brazil products that were formerly exported to the United States. ($1 = 3.3291 reais) (Writing and additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)