March 5, 2020 / 3:38 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Brazil's IRB reviews outlook after CEO, CFO ousted over Buffet rumors

(Adds analyst’s note, updates shares)

By Carolina Mandl

SAO PAULO, March 5 (Reuters) - Brazilian reinsurer IRB Brasil Resseguros SA’s new chief financial officer on Thursday denied there were problems with the company’s financials but its shares slumped as doubts persisted about its accounting practices after top executives were replaced.

As the reinsurer seeks to tamp down investor unease fueled by a short seller that has questioned its accounting practices, both CFO and interim Chief Executive Werner Suffert and interim Chairman Pedro Guimaraes expressed confidence in its financials.

“The board of directors is not uncomfortable with IRB’s accounting,” Guimaraes said. “Auditors have always given unconditional approval to its financial statements.”

Although IRB shares opened about 5% higher on Thursday after the company announced the new management, they soon erased gains and were down more than 10% in midday Sao Paulo trading.

So far this year, the stock has lost over 55%, wiping roughly 20 billion reais off the market value of the company, whose shareholders include leading Brazilian banks Itau Unibanco Holding SA and Banco Bradesco SA.

Analysts at XP Inc added that investors were expecting new management to say they would revise the company’s financial statements and hire specialists to help them do so, but instead the company insisted the existing financials are accurate.

“Investors may take this information with a certain caution,” they said, adding investors still do not have much visibility on the company’s future as both a replacement CEO and chairman are still to be appointed.

Speaking on a conference call with analysts, Suffert said the reinsurer would revise its outlook “to see if it is adjusted to market conditions.”

The company is also looking for a new chairman, as former chairman Ivan Monteiro resigned for unclear reasons after confusion over whether Berkshire Hathaway, controlled by Warren Buffett, had taken a stake.

Reports about a Buffett approach, which IRB’s former leadership initially confirmed, had stabilized the company’s shares after they had been driven lower for weeks by questions about its accounting methods from asset manager Squadra Investimentos, which has a short position in IRB’s shares.

Still, Suffert signaled some changes. The company’s new CEO and CFO will not receive bonuses based on the target of doubling IRB’s market capitalization in three years. A new compensation plan will be more aligned with long-term results, Guimaraes said.

Suffert added that he sees room for more disclosure in the financial statements of IRB. (Reporting by Carolina Mandl Additional reporting by Paula Laier Editing by Brad Haynes and Grant McCool)

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