Twitter Bites Back at Brazilian Billionaire BatistaJuan Pablo Spinetto
Eike Batista became the most popular Latin American billionaire on Twitter by sharing his formula for success. Now the Brazilian entrepreneur is being assailed online by investors blaming him for wealth destruction.
People with shares in Batista’s OGX Petroleo & Gas Participacoes SA are using the social media to criticize him after missed oil targets spurred an 82 percent share-price plunge this year. The billionaire has posted about 21,700 Twitter messages since 2010 and has more than 1.3 million followers, almost six times more than Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest person. Bill Gates, the richest person on the planet, has 11.8 million followers.
William Magalhaes, a 32-year business owner who started buying OGX shares last year, has been using his @MinoritariosOGX Twitter account since March to push Batista to keep minority investors better informed and represented, including on the company’s board. His efforts paid off this month when he was granted a meeting with OGX Chief Executive Officer Luiz Carneiro and Chief Financial Officer Roberto Monteiro at the company’s downtown Rio de Janeiro headquarters.
“I was looking for a direct contact with Eike,” Magalhaes, who’s also using Twitter to organize a meeting of OGX minority shareholders in Sao Paulo for early July, said by telephone. “I would like to be closer to the company, supporting it as the shareholders that we are.”
Batista, whose natural resources and logistics startups made him the world’s eighth richest person in early 2012 with an estimated $34.5 billion fortune, has posted an average 18 messages per day since joining Twitter, according to specialized website Twtrland.com. He has referred to the social media as his “digital pen” and during an interview with Bloomberg Television in April last year said he uses Twitter to educate followers and recruit staff.
“If you have a message to pass on and you think you can teach a generation of Brazilians to become entrepreneurs,” he said when asked why he was so outspoken on Twitter. “We are the real creators of wealth.”
His misfortunes began a year ago when OGX announced that its first two blocks offshore Brazil were producing less oil than expected. Further cost, sales and production disappointments eroded investor confidence in his six publicly traded companies, reducing has personal fortune by about $30 billion from a March 2012 peak.
Batista is now selling assets, including one of his personal jets, reducing staff and scaling back projects. His holding company EBX Group Co. said this month that it restructured debt. His six units had combined net debt of 18.8 billion reais as of March 31, or or almost double their current market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
OGX rose 6.4 percent to 83 centavos at the close in Sao Paulo. A 90 percent slump in the past 12 months is the steepest loss among members of Brazil’s benchmark index.
Davi Balsas, a 30-year-old lawyer from Campinas, in Sao Paulo State, says he started buying shares of OGX in early 2010 as an investment option for his savings. He braved the stock decline and continued buying in a bid to profit from an eventual rebound, he said in a June 18 interview. Balsas, whose last purchase was 800 shares last week, calculates his losses so far at more than 25,000 reais ($11,000).
Balsas took to Twitter to contact Batista after seeing that the billionaire used the vehicle to give information about his companies. Batista replied to his questions on three occasions, including when he said OGX was preparing a new business plan, Balsas said.
His comments about OGX earned him “a bit of fame” among social media users, he said, adding that he also exchanges views with fellow shareholders through chats of Brazilian investor websites like GuiaInvest and InfoMoney.
“It was a way to try to get information,” Balsas, who asked for his Twitter account name not to be published. “I would like to talk to him and ask him what’s happening. He needs to show up and show he cares. We need an answer.”
#FalaOGX and #REUNIAOcomMINORITARIOS are some of the hashtags used by shareholders in their messages to the billionaire’s account @eikebatista. Hashtags are a tool popularized on Twitter that makes it easier for social-network users to discover and share topics that are being discussed.
‘Rumors & Gossip’
While less frequent, Batista has continued posting messages on his Twitter account as the value of his companies declined. On March 23, he posted that “rumors and gossip are the tools of short sellers” and warned investors that were dumping his shares that they will be “caught with their pants down.” OGX lost 66 percent since then.
“I am as disappointed as you are and working to change this reality with new discipline,” he posted on April 13 in response to a user questioning what he had to say to shareholders who have lost money betting on his ventures. “I didn’t sell my shares!”
OGX said in a statement yesterday that the company values transparency in its relations with investors, adding that Twitter is not an official channel for communication between them and OGX and parent company EBX group.
Executives and companies with a social-network strategy should continue using these tools during crisis situations, said Cely Carmo, head of digital media strategy for Latin America at Burson-Marsteller LLC.
“Executives need to be prepared to manage crisis and to engage people when the mood is not positive for them,” she said by telephone. “This is the nature of the social network: You open a channel, you are able to create attention but you are also opening the door to negative mentions -- you don’t have control over the information anymore.”
Investor Magalhaes says there’s still time for Batista to turn his companies around, adding that minority shareholders should be given a seat on the board.
Other postings on social media are less diplomatic. Adriano Ferrari, another OGX investor, challenged Batista on his Twitter account to speak up to shareholders that lost money after betting on his companies.
“We want detailed information of what’s going on,” Ferrari posted June 17. “We are losing our savings for believing in the company.”