UPDATE 3-Hedge fund plans proxy fight with Cliffs to install new CEO

Wed Feb 12, 2014 2:34pm EST
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By Allison Martell

Feb 12 (Reuters) - The activist investor squaring off with Cliffs Natural Resources Inc named its preferred candidate for chief executive officer on Wednesday and said it plans to nominate enough new directors to form a majority of the iron ore miner's board.

Hedge fund Casablanca Capital, which owns about 5.2 percent of Cliffs, said it is backing Lourenco Goncalves, former CEO of Metals USA, to take the top job at hard-hit Cliffs.

Last month Casablanca publicly urged Cliffs to spin off its international operations and form a master limited partnership from its U.S. assets, but the fund declined to say what its next steps would be if Cliffs refused.

In an interview with Reuters, Goncalves said he would focus on supplying U.S. steelmakers rather than selling into the competitive global iron ore market. He was particularly critical of Cliffs' Bloom Lake Mine in Quebec, saying he would never have bought the mine.

Asked whether he would carry out Casablanca's proposals as chief executive, Goncalves said the fund's plan offers "good alternatives, but they are alternatives, they are possibilities."

Cliffs, a relatively high-cost producer, has been battered by weak iron ore prices. Operational issues and worse-than-expected costs have plagued Bloom Lake, once seen by analysts as a key growth project.

After months of uncertainty, the company said on Tuesday it has decided to indefinitely suspend a planned expansion at Bloom Lake, and idle Wabush, another Canadian mine, slashing capital spending and cutting some 500 jobs.   Continued...