(Recasts to detail exposure to companies in Petrobras scandal, results, comments throughout)
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Aluísio Alves
SAO PAULO, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Less than 3 percent of outstanding loans at Brazil's Caixa Econômica Federal are placed with companies involved in a graft scandal at state-controlled Petróleo Brasileiro SA, a level that the country's largest mortgage lender said is manageable.
Executives at state-run Caixa said on Thursday the bank's total loan exposure to Brazil's oil and petrochemical sector totaled 2.2 percent of its 605 billion-real ($214 billion) loan book in December. As much as 0.8 percent of Caixa's outstanding loans were with civil construction companies in the period, the executives said.
The numbers are in line with the exposure that rival private-sector and state-controlled banks had to companies in those sectors, outgoing Chief Executive Jorge Hereda said on Thursday. Prosecutors said state oil company Petrobras and engineering, shipbuilding and oil equipment firms colluded to overprice billions of reais in contracts for about a decade.
"We feel that our exposure is by no means bigger or smaller than what other large banks in the system had. It's manageable because of the good collateral offered for those credits," Hereda said at an event to discuss fourth-quarter earnings.
Yet the Brasilia-based bank, Brazil's largest mortgage lender which in recent years has grown aggressively into corporate and infrastructure lending, had to ramp up loan-loss provisions in the fourth quarter. As a result, fourth-quarter profit tumbled 70 percent, the bank said on Thursday.
Earnings excluding one-time items slumped to 675 million reais ($236 million) from 2.22 billion reais in the third quarter. They rose from 399 million reais a year earlier.
Caixa's loan book expanded 22.4 percent last year, the fastest pace among Brazil's largest banks, as Hereda followed government instructions to expand corporate lending. Caixa's loan book could expand between 14 percent and 18 percent this year, the slowest pace since at least 2008.
The exposure of the FI-FGTS severance fund, managed by Caixa, to companies involved in the Petrobras graft scandal is worth about 12 billion reais, in the form of debt instruments and equity in certain projects, executives said at the event. Some of those companies include builder OAS SA, oil rig builder Sete Brasil SA and a unit of Odebrecht SA, Latin America's largest engineering firm.
Hereda, who will be replaced by former cabinet minister Miriam Belchior later this month, said he opposes a plan by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to list Caixa within the next 18 months.
$1 = 2.833 Brazilian reais Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in São Paulo; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Lisa Von Ahn and Richard Chang