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The Petrobras University building in Rio de Janeiro. Soaring costs, falling production and rising fuel imports have crimped the oil company’s ability to pay for a $237-billion five-year expansion plan, the world’s largest corporate investment program.Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Brazil's state-controlled oil company Petrobras plans to sell all its refineries outside of Brazil as part of an asset-sale plan aimed at helping finance expansion at home, a company source told Reuters on Thursday.

Petrobras hopes to sell $14.8-billion (U.S.) of assets this year as soaring costs, falling production and rising fuel imports have crimped its ability to pay for a $237-billion five-year expansion plan, the world's largest corporate investment program.

Previously Petrobras had only expressed interest in selling its U.S. refinery, which it plans to sell along with all or part of its nearby oil exploration and production blocks in the Gulf of Mexico. It also owns refineries in Argentina and Japan.

"The objective is to concentrate refining near our main consumer centre and that's in Brazil," said the source, who declined to be named because it is against company policy to provide specifics of asset sale plans. "To have refining units without the rest of the (production, refining and consumer) chain is not that profitable."

Petrobras owns a 100-per-cent stake in three refineries outside Brazil: the 100,000-barrel-per-day plant in Pasadena, Tex.; the 100,000-bpd Nansei Sekiyu unit on the Japanese island of Okinawa; and a 31,500-bpd refinery in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras also owns a 28.5-per-cent stake in another Argentine refinery in Salta Province. The 32,000-bpd refinery is also 50-per-cent owned by Repsol YPF and 21.5-per-cent by Pluspetrol, according to Petrobras' Argentine website.

The decision to only make refining investments in Brazil is a reversal of previous company strategy, said Adriano Pires, head of the Brazilian Infrastructure Institute, an energy-policy think-tank in Rio de Janeiro.

"Several years ago, the government wanted to transform Petrobras into a giant global player, and because of this, assets were bought abroad," he said. "The company didn't just buy refineries, but it bought exploration blocks in the United States, the biggest world consumer of oil and its derivatives."

Brazil lacks refining capacity, however, and has to import gasoline and diesel fuel to feed a growing market.

Brazil's state-led Petrobras is importing 80,000 to 90,000 bpd of gasoline, an amount likely to increase over the next two months, the oil company's chief executive said earlier on Thursday.

Rising energy demand and a reduction in the amount of ethanol blended into Brazilian gasoline have caused imports to soar in 2012. Fuel imports, combined with the government's refusal to let Petrobras raise domestic fuel prices in line with world benchmarks, has saddled its refining division with more than $8-billion in losses this year.

"Imports are strong and there is a tendency for them to grow by January," chief executive Maria das Graças Foster told reporters in Rio de Janeiro.

The company, which is controlled by the government but also has private shareholders, has no timetable for increasing gasoline and diesel prices or selling the Pasadena refinery, Ms. Foster said.