Kinross Gold Corp., a Canadian gold producer that has lost almost a third of its value this year, fired Chief Executive Officer Tye Burt and promoted another investment banker, J. Paul Rollinson, to replace him.
Rollinson, the company’s executive vice president of corporate development and a former banker at Scotia Capital, also replaces Burt on the company’s board, Toronto-based Kinross said yesterday in a statement. The CEO change was needed to guide Kinross through its “capital and project optimization process,” the company said.
Kinross said in February it took a $2.49 billion writedown on the Tasiast mine in Mauritania it bought 17 months earlier in its all-stock C$8 billion ($7.95 billion) acquisition of Red Back Mining Inc. The company said at the time it was using stricter criteria for spending and project approvals amid rising costs and would delay development of mines in Ecuador and Chile.
“It’s pretty clear that they’re taking this step due to shareholder pressure,” David Christensen, CEO of ASA Ltd. in San Mateo, California, which manages $600 million and invests in precious-metals companies, said in a telephone interview.
Kinross, currently the fourth-largest Canada-based gold producer by market value, has fallen 35 percent this year. That compares with a 20 percent decline in the 16-company NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index. Kinross has lost 61 percent of its value since the Red Back deal closed.
The CEO change “is not a surprise,” George Topping, a Toronto-based analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., said by phone. The shares have fallen “because of two value-destroying acquisitions: Tasiast and Fruta del Norte.”
Kinross bought the Fruta del Norte project in Ecuador in 2008 when it acquired Aurelian Resources Inc. for C$614 million in shares. The company has yet to reach an agreement with the government to develop the project.
Burt, 55, was appointed CEO of Kinross in March 2005. He joined the company from Barrick Gold Corp., where he had been vice chairman and executive director for corporate development. He’s a former investment banker whose positions included global head of metals and mining at Deutsche Bank AG and co-head of global mining at BMO Nesbitt Burns.
He led Kinross in four company takeovers while CEO, including Red Back, it’s biggest deal ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Kinross fell 5.6 percent to C$7.56 at the close in Toronto. Gold futures for December delivery declined 0.9 percent to $1,592.80 an ounce on the Comex in New York.
The announcement comes less than two months since Toronto-based Barrick, the biggest gold producer, ousted CEO Aaron Regent and replaced him with Jamie Sokalsky, who had been chief financial officer, after the company said it was “disappointed” by its share-price performance.
Rollinson joined Kinross as executive vice president of new investments in September 2008, according to the company’s website. Before that he was deputy head of investment banking at Scotia Capital, a unit of Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia, and also worked at Deutsche Bank and BMO.
“We believe Mr. Rollinson has been hired to lead the asset rationalization and restructuring process for Kinross which may include a divestment of Tasiast,” Anita Soni, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in Toronto, said in a note yesterday.
Burt “staked his reputation on Tasiast” when he asked investors to trust him that it was worth the purchase price, Soni said. Kinross shareholders approved the Red Back deal, even with a recommendation by RiskMetrics Group Inc. that they vote against the acquisition because production would have to be “significantly higher” than market consensus to break even.
Kinross said in January it was reviewing its plans and schedule for an expansion at Tasiast amid industry cost inflation and because it had gained an “increased understanding” of the gold deposit. The company said in May it expected to give an update on the project plans, including what type of ore processing it will use, when it reports second-quarter earnings, which are scheduled to be released Aug. 8.
Kinross also has operations in the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Russia and Ghana.
The CEO change “could also signal issues with Tasiast” that may come to light when the company reports results next week, Brian Yu, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. in San Francisco, said in a note yesterday. There is potential for negative news on the timing of capital costs or processing plans at the operation, he said.
Barrick, which reported earnings July 26, said at the time its biggest development project, the Pascua-Lama mine on the Chile-Argentina border, may cost 50 to 60 percent more and would start up a year later than expected.
Barrick, Goldcorp Inc. and Yamana Gold Inc. are the three largest Canadian gold producers by market value.