Freeport-McMoRan Moves Fast As Carl Icahn Circles

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Freeport-McMoRan is moving fast as it deals with activist investor Carl Icahn and any ideas he might have up his sleeve. The mining and energy company suddenly changed up its board and announced that it was thinking about a spinoff of its natural gas and oil business.

Carl Icahn discloses stake in Freeport-McMoRan

It’s only been a few weeks since Icahn revealed that he had increased his stake in Freeport. Icahn first started targeting Freeport in August, and at that time, he revealed his intentions to hold talks with management. The company’s sudden move today continues a trend that’s spreading across public corporations, notes Bloomberg‘s James Attwood. Activism has made such a broad mark on Wall Street that major companies are putting place action plans to deal with activists, should one take a stake.

Recently companies have been dealing with tumbling commodities prices, and activist investors have taken an interest and are sweeping in with a long list of suggestions about how to improve profitability. On Monday, DuPont said its CEO will resign, and the news comes only months after the chemicals manufacturer had a near miss in a proxy battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz. DuPont won that battle, but not by much.

Freeport announces changes

Today Freeport said it’s slashing the number of members on its board nearly in half, cutting the number from 16 down to 19. The company is aiming to separate its gas and oil division after what it said were “constructive discussions” with shareholders. Earlier this year, Freeport-McMoRan revealed a proposal to sell off shares in the division. Cowen analyst Anthony Rizzuto told Bloomberg that today’s announced changes should sit well with shareholders because Freeport is moving in the right direction by refocusing on its copper business.

Last year copper contributed approximately 60% of Freeport’s revenue, and prices for the precious metal have plunged this year, along with oil prices. Two years ago, the company had raised debt by almost six times by getting back into oil and gas with the purchase of McMoRan Exploration, which had been a subsidiary previously, and Plains Exploration and Production. Both acquisitions were announced on the same day.

Freeport considering spinoff IPO

Earlier this year, Freeport said it might sell up to 20% of its gas and oil division through an initial public offering in order to battle the falling commodity prices and support plans for expansion. The new board is made up of seven independent directors (Gerald Ford, Stephen Siegele, Jon Madonna, Frances Fragos Townsend, Lydia Kennard, and Dustan McCoy) and two executive directors, CEO Richard Adkerson and Chairman James Moffett.

The company said in its statement today that it will continue considering the IPO option that was previously announced. The board is also considering spinning off the gas and oil business to Freeport investors, engaging in joint ventures, and reducing spending even further.

Today shares of Freeport-McMoRan climbed after the announcement of the board shakeup. The stock climbed as much as 5.1% to $11.75 per share during afternoon trading today.

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