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Freeport-McMoRan Cuts More Capex as Icahn Buys In

Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (FCX), whose natural gas-heavy portfolio runs across the U.S. onshore and into the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM), is moving to combat commodity price declines by slashing more from capital spending plans, but it also may have to combat corporate raider Carl Icahn, who has acquired stakes in the company.

The Phoenix-based natural gas resources conglomerate has been slammed not only by the sharp slump in oil prices but by the decline in copper prices, which are at a six-year low. FCX is the largest copper producer in the world, with U.S. interests that include the flagship U.S. Morenci copper mine. It also develops gold mines.

Chairman Jim Bob Moffett, CEO Richard Adkerson and FM O&G CEO Jim Flores said in a joint statement the steps to reduce costs and capex "will strengthen our financial position during a period of weak and uncertain market conditions and preserve our large resource base for improved future market conditions...Our high quality portfolio of long-lived assets, flexible operating structure and experienced management team provide a solid base to address the current market conditions while maintaining an attractive portfolio of assets positioned for long-term success."

FCX ended Thursday 28.55% higher for the day at $10.19/share. After the market closed, management indicated that Icahn filed a Securities and Exchange Commission Schedule 13D indicating his group had acquired an 8.46% interest in the company. Icahn said FCX shares are undervalued and he plans to have discussions with the board and management about capex, executive compensation practices, capital structure and curtailing “high-cost production operations.” He also may seek seats on the board.

In response, FCX management said it “maintains an open dialogue with our shareholders and welcomes constructive input toward our common goal of enhancing shareholder value.”

Domestic oil and gas assets are in the deepwater, onshore and offshore California, and in the Haynesville Shale gas play. It also has a position in the Inboard Lower Tertiary natural gas trend onshore in South Louisiana.

Earlier this month the oil and gas arm said it would defer investments in several long-term projects to 2017 in response to market conditions (see Daily GPI,Aug. 5). Capital expenditures for Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas (FM O&G) now have been reduced to $2 billion a year -- and the operator continues to look for a partner.

"The revised plans, together with initiatives to obtain third party financing, including the previously announced potential initial public offering of a minority interest in FM O&G or other actions, will be pursued as required to fund oil and gas capital spending within cash flow for 2016 and subsequent years."

Since late 2014, FCX had cut its consolidated capital expenditures (capex) for this year to $6.3 billion from $7.5 billion. Incorporating FM O&G reductions and Thursday's announcement, capex in 2016 now is expected to decline to $4 billion total, 29% lower than the $5.6 billion estimate made in July.

FCX also is pursuing "significant reductions" in its general and administrative costs. "In addition, FCX is targeting reductions in its working capital requirements and savings in the global procurement of materials, supplies and third-party service costs."

Using price assumptions and recent 2016 Brent crude oil futures prices of $54/bbl, FCX operating cash flows for next year now are expected to be around $6.3 billion, providing adequate cash flow for required capital investments, dividends and debt repayment.

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