Avoid the mirage in Brazil because nothing is as it seems.

And investors shouldn't let the more than 150% spike in Petrobras (PBR.A - Get Report) over the past three months fool them.

The bounce does little to change the fact that the world's most indebted oil company is grappling with the twin challenges of low energy prices and a shocking corruption scandal.

No matter what its supporters might want investors to believe, Petrobras is only for risk junkies who are willing to stomach huge uncertainties. There are far better investments out there.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and the events surrounding her impeachment have made headlines for a while.

Federally operated Petrobras is banking on Michel Temer, the new president, stemming the bleeding.

But a truly new order is hard to envision. The corruption in Petrobras was epidemic, so a few individuals can hardly be blamed for the downfall, and their removal won't automatically eradicate the problems.

For investors looking for market-beating growth stocks, Petrobras isn't one of them.

The commodity-driven Brazilian economy and its challenges are well-known. A few over-optimistic bulls think that the worst is over.

But three consecutive quarterly losses are difficult to ignore, and the company's $124 billion in debt is very real. 

Petrobras is slashing spending, reducing payroll and selling assets after crude prices tumbled. The ever-expanding pay-to-play scandal has sent some of its former executives to prison and driven suppliers into bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are investigating more than a dozen companies implicated in the Petrobras scandal.

The company has been selling assets. It recently closed the sell-off of its Argentinean business to local Pampa Energia for $892 million and its Chilean subsidiary to investment firm Southern Cross for $490 million.

But these deals are a tiny slice of the company's divestment plan for this year alone. 

Petrobras is also trying to resolve an onslaught of fresh and emerging adversities. The $1 billion loan from China's Exim Bank was used to cover payments for equipment and goods.

But sales are falling, and the recession is curbing fuel consumption and eroding profits.

The company posted a first-quarter loss of 1.25 billion reais ($360 million), or 10 centavos a share, compared with a profit of 5.3 billion reais, or 41 centavos, a year earlier. Sales came in at 70.3 billion reais, down 5% from a year earlier and below analysts' estimates of 78.8 billion reais.

No one expects a comeback for Petrobras. In fact, things looks like they could get a lot worse.

Over the next five years, Petrobras is expected to post a 21%-plus drop in annual earnings per share, compared with the 11.11% industry average.

BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil are all safer investments in the energy sector, though each has its own set of challenges. Phillips 66 is perhaps an even better choice with its de-risked business model.

With shares of Petrobras having run up too fast without any real change in fundamentals, Barclays analyst Paul Cheng expects the stock to cool off.

In fact, shares are trading 37% higher than the 12-month median analyst price target, and the stock is just pennies away from the highest analyst target of $7.50 a share.

The verdict is clear: Ignore the optimists on Petrobras, and steer clear.


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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.