Freeport Plans $5 Billion Sales for Deepwater Growth

Freeport-McMoRan Inc., a metals producer that diversified into energy last year, will expand sales of onshore assets to reduce debt as it focuses on deep-water oil and natural gas finds in the Gulf of Mexico.

Freeport plans to sell as much as $5 billion more of onshore assets to help reduce debt and pay for investments in the Gulf of Mexico, Vice Chairman Jim Flores said on a conference call today. The Phoenix, Arizona-based company sees potential for faster growth and better returns by refocusing its oil and gas portfolio in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, Flores said.

Freeport is considering asset sales across its business to reduce debt, which jumped from $3.5 billion to more than $20 billion after it bought two oil and gas companies last year. The company, which says it wants to cut debt to $12 billion by 2016, is facing lower copper prices than when it announced the purchases. Export curbs that restricted output from its biggest mine have also hurt earnings this year.

“We project that we’ll have $4 billion to $5 billion more of onshore asset sales to further accelerate the debt paydown,” said Flores, who is also chief executive officer of the company’s energy unit. “We will be buying additional interests in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, to complement our portfolio, in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The company in May announced a $3.1 billion sale of Texas shale properties to Encana Corp., which it followed a day later with a deal to buy positions in Gulf of Mexico projects from Apache Corp. for $1.4 billion.

Freeport will look to sell assets with less potential for growth than its other operations, CEO Richard Adkerson said on the call. It’s “actively” looking for ways to do that.

Freeport, the biggest publicly traded copper producer, acquired oil and gas producers Plains Exploration & Production Co. and McMoRan Exploration Co. last year in transactions valued at about $9 billion, excluding assumed debt. The energy unit must be self-sufficient and proceeds from the planned asset sales will help cover negative cash flow expected over the next couple of years, Flores said.

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