Ex-gov, hedge fund target Mont. mining company

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm •  Published: February 25, 2013
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A former Montana governor considered a dark horse candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has joined a hedge fund's attempt to take control of the state's largest publicly-owned mining company.

Less than two months out of office, Democrat Brian Schweitzer said he's intervening to save Stillwater Mining Co. from questionable foreign expansion plans he says could leave its 1,500 Montana jobs at risk.

A New York-based hedge fund, the Clinton Group, submitted formal notice to Stillwater on Monday of its bid to oust the precious metals company's board of directors. If Schweitzer and the Clinton Group can persuade enough investors to support them, the current board would be replaced with a new slate that includes Schweitzer.

The hostile takeover bid answers, at least in part, what's next for the effusive ex-governor.

That question has been on the lips of many political pundits, with Schweitzer demurring and never completely stamping out speculation of anything from a primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus in 2014 to a long-shot bid for his party's 2016 presidential nomination.

The 57-year-old former governor brushed aside questions about his political future in an interview. For now, he said he's committed to reviving the fortunes of one of Montana's most high-profile companies.

"I've got some time on my hands and I'd like to help turn this company around. It's an important company to Montana and it's an important company to me," Schweitzer said. "You've got a company that's draining its equity, and you can't run a mine if you don't have any money and don't have equity."

In a statement issued Monday, Stillwater said the Clinton Group had "minimal experience in the mining industry" and failed to recognize the company's "positive momentum." Stillwater also said it had taken steps to ensure the company benefits from market trends, but did not offer specifics.

The Billings-based company operates the only platinum and palladium mines in the U.S., deep beneath southern Montana's rugged Beartooth Mountains.

Buoyed by high precious metals prices, Stillwater made two major purchases in recent years that executives said were designed to diversify its holdings. Those purchases were a palladium, copper and gold reserve in Canada, worth $118 million when it was announced, and a copper and gold reserve in the Andes of Argentina initially valued at $450 million.

The company has since revealed that the palladium content of the Canadian reserve was overestimated. And the copper deposit in Argentina could cost up to $2.5 billion to develop, a questionable prospect in a country with unsettled politics that have prompted other companies to stay out, Schweitzer said.

Stillwater last year sold a 25 percent stake in its Marathon project in Ontario to Mitsubishi Corp. for $81 million. Mining is expected to begin in 2017.

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