Steel Markets

Casablanca Capital Seeks to Oust CEO at Cliffs Natural Resources

Written by Sandy Williams

Lourenco Goncalves, former CEO of Metals USA, is being nominated by Casablanca Capital, an activist fund, to replace James Kirsch as CEO of Cliffs Natural Resources. Casablanca has called for Cliffs to spin off its international ore business to shareholders and convert its North American assets to a master limited partnership (MLP).

Casablanca Capital announced on Wednesday, Feb. 13, it would nominate Goncalves for CEO along with a slate of directors to replace the current board at Cliffs Natural Resources

The statement followed Cliffs announcement on Tuesday that it would cut capital expenditures in 2014 by more than half and idle production at its Wabush Mine by the end of the first quarter. Expenditures would also be reduced for the phase 1 development of Bloom Lake mine in Quebec which has been fraught with delays and cost increases.

Casablanca Capital, which owns a 5.2 percent share in Cliffs Natural Resources, says the cost cuts proposed by the company are inadequate and a split would allow the shareholders to realize value of the North American iron ore business. Under Casablanca’s plan, proposed in January, Bloom Lake would be spun off with the company’s assets in Asia Pacific and the Great Lakes assets would attract investors as a MLP. Casablanca also calls for divesting the logistics assets and doubling the dividend for shareholders.

“The steps Cliffs announced yesterday are, in our view, a knee-jerk response to our call for change. We believe they are inadequate to address Cliffs’ issues, including the need for dramatic cost savings, and do not demonstrate the strong leadership needed to create substantial value for shareholders,” said Donald Drapkin, Chairman of Casablanca.

Drapkin says Cliffs “hasn’t engaged us in any meaningful dialogue on the issues we’ve raised or provided a timetable for doing so.”

Gonzales has agreed to be nominated by Casablanca Capital for the CEO position.

“Cliffs is undervalued by the market, not because of any inherent shortcoming in the assets, but rather because of how the assets have been structured and managed,” said Goncalves in a press release by Casablanca Capital. “The personal investment I have made in Cliffs underscores my belief in the opportunity as well as my support for the cost-cutting and other recommendations Casablanca has made. I look forward to working with Casablanca and our fellow investors to catalyze positive change and generate significant shareholder value.”

Gonzales recently made a personal investment of approximately $1 million in shares of Cliffs Natural Resources.

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