Commodities & Metals

Will Executive Reshuffle Help Freeport-McMoRan?

Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) announced Tuesday morning that it has parted company with the executive management team at its oil and gas division. Four executives, including the division’s chief executive, chief operating officer, chief financial officer and general counsel, are departing, and Freeport is bringing the division’s management under the corporate umbrella as an operating division.

Mark Kidder, formerly the vice-president of operations for the oil and gas group, has been named as executive vice-president of operation of the division. Kidder came to Freeport in 2013 along with the company’s acquisition of Plains Exploration and Production.

The four executives who have been let go are former CEO James Flores, former COO Doss Bourgeois, former CFO Winston Talbert and former General Counsel John F. Wombwell. Like Kidder all four joined Freeport with the Plains acquisition.

There is little doubt now that the $9 billion that Freeport spent in 2013 to acquire Plains and McMoRan Exploration was a bad, or at least badly timed, decision. Freeport’s main argument for the acquisition was that the company needed to diversify out of the copper and gold mining business. Within a year of the acquisitions, though, crude oil prices began falling and with them any chance that Freeport would show any near-term benefit from the deals.

At the time the deals were announced in December of 2012, there were plenty of doubts about the claimed synergies between a mining company and an oil exploration and production company. Falling oil, gold and copper prices never really gave Freeport a chance to test the theory. Since reaching a peak of around $39 a share in July of 2014, Freeport’s stock is down about 70%, an improvement from the nearly 90% drop as recently as mid-January.

The fired executives may be the only example of synergy that emerges from the 2013 acquisitions. Don’t feel too sorry for Flores, however. When the acquisition was announced in 2012, Bloomberg estimated that he stood to gain more than $150 million. Call it an early golden parachute.

Reshuffling the deck probably was needed, but higher prices for crude oil and a firm settlement with the government of Indonesia over the Grasberg mine are the only things that will really put some air under Freeport’s stock.

The stock is among the most heavily traded issues on the New York Stock Exchange, with nearly 60 million shares traded daily. Shares traded up about 0.8% Tuesday morning, at $9.52 in a 52-week range of $3.52 to $23.97. The consensus price target on the stock is $8.09.

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