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If you're a follower of Brazil's mining giant Vale (NYSE: VALE ) , or even an owner of its shares, it probably feels like the first week of a new school year. This time, however, that strange combination of excitement and queasiness isn't caused by the uncertainties of having moved up a grade. Instead, it likely relates to the arrival of a new CEO at the world's second biggest miner.
You no doubt recall the news that Roger Agnelli, Vale's flamboyant and successful leader for the past decade, was being replaced by Murilo Ferreira, a consultant for the past three years, However, for the preceding 10 years, he had hung his hat at the Rio de Janeiro-based company, beginning as director of its aluminum business.
For those of you who occasionally place mining stocks in your portfolios and therefore might be inclined to take a header with Vale's new management, it's important to have at least a passing familiarity with the primary reason behind Agnelli's departure from the company. In its simplest terms -- and as I've descried to Fools in the past -- Agnelli's biggest "crime" involved placing Vale's interests ahead of those of the Brazilian government.
As an example: He pushed back against what essentially were orders to invest in a hydroelectric dam, which would have been unlikely to ever realize a profit for Vale, but would have benefited the country's economy.
While it's obviously an early observation, his successor doesn't appear likely to make the same sort of mistake. A friend of the country's still-new president, Dilma Rousseff, he appears more inclined to adopt the approach of Jose Sergio Gabrielli, the CEO of the state oil company, Petrobras (NYSE: PBR ) . Gabrielli's typical acquiescence to Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has kept him from the hot water into which Agnelli tended to be dipped.
Under those circumstances, my inclination is to recommend that Fools abstain from purchasing shares of Vale until the new managerial relationship and its effects on the company are clarified. Instead, I continue to believe in Australia's BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , the largest of the world's mining companies and the operator of an expanding international oil and gas operation. BHP, Vale, and Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO ) together control most of the world's iron ore, a key ingredient in steel manufacturing and almost always in high demand in China.
As yet another alternative for those with a yen for mining, there appears to be little doubt that Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX ) , the world's largest publicly held copper producer, will continue to benefit from its high-quality, long-lived, geographically diverse reserves of copper, gold, and molybdenum. It extracts those metals from up-to-date mines in the U.S., South America, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With the world facing a growing list of political, geopolitical, and economic concerns -- the stability of China's demand for iron ore and copper being important examples -- I'd hardly abandon Vale. But as indicated, I'd monitor the company closely until it emerges from its interim period of the new leadership settling in. Adding the company to your Watchlist, our free and personalized stock monitoring service, is an ideal way to initiate that endeavor.