(Adds quotes from executives, forward-looking statements)
By Reese Ewing
SAO PAULO, March 12 (Reuters) - Brazilian steelmaker Cia Siderurgica Nacional SA expects to double its sales on the U.S. market in 2015 to 600,000 tonnes with the help of a stronger dollar, the company’s head of sales said on Thursday.
If U.S. sales reach that level, they would account for around 10 percent of the company’s total steel sales in 2015, projected at 6.2 million tonnes, Luis Martinez said on an earnings call with analysts.
Brazil’s currency, the real, has weakened nearly 17 percent against the dollar so far in 2015 and is trading near 11-year lows.
“We see the U.S. market as an opportunity,” said Martinez. “We want to sell in dollars at this exchange rate.”
Other Brazilian steelmakers are also eyeing international markets to make up for weak demand at home. Local steelmaker Gerdau said recently that its steel exports grew 31 percent in the fourth quarter due to the strong dollar.
Roughly 70 percent of CSN’s projected steel sales in 2015 are expected to go to the Brazilian market, but demand remains weak as the local auto industry sputters and economic growth stagnates.
CSN executives said they foresee domestic demand for steel recovering only in the second half of this year.
Earlier on Thursday, Brazil’s largest integrated steelmaker said its fourth-quarter results showed a net profit of 67 million reais ($21.5 million) after a loss of 487 million reais a year ago.
The company still ended 2014 with an annual loss of 112 million reais as it battled falling domestic steel demand.
Earnings were boosted by lower raw materials prices and buying less third-party steel. The company was also able to secure higher prices for its flat-rolled steel products.
CSN shares on the Sao Paulo exchange were up 8 percent at 5.37 reais in early afternoon trade.
The company said it expects to export 27 million to 28 million tonnes of iron ore in 2015 through its new Tecar port terminal.
Executives said they were negotiating for lower freight rates as well.
CSN reported that its net debt to EBITDA had grown to 4 in the fourth quarter from 3.2 in the prior quarter. CSN’s head of investor relations, David Salam, said the company could sell assets to reduce its leverage if necessary.
$1 = 3.12 reais Reporting by Reese Ewing; Additional reporting by Walter Brandimarte in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Toby Chopra, W Simon and Dan Grebler