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Brazil’s Bolsonaro voices ‘sympathy’ toward Petrobras privatization

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday that he had “initial sympathy” toward the idea of privatizing state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, a comment that gave the company’s shares a minor jolt.

Bolsonaro made the comment to national broadcaster GloboNews at an event in Sao Paulo. On Wednesday, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said in an interview that Bolsonaro was no closer to agreeing to a privatization of Petrobras, as the company is known.

In recent days, government officials and Petrobras executives have sought to reassure investors that the company is completely free of government interference after Petrobras canceled a diesel price hike on Friday at the behest of the government.

High-ranking officials have typically opposed privatization, though not without qualifications. In November, Petrobras Chief Executive Roberto Castello Branco said that privatizing the company was not part of his mandate, while in October, the chief of Bolsonaro’s party told Reuters that privatization was not on the short-term agenda.

Petrobras’ Brazil-listed preferred shares extended their gains by about 0.7 percent following Bolsonaro’s comments, and were up 3.5 percent in afternoon trade. Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa index was up 1.3 percent.