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Here's How Freeport-McMoRan Will Deleverage

Soon after the purchase of oil assets in 2013, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX  ) announced that it plans to reduce its indebtedness. Freeport-McMoRan's debt stood at $19.7 billion at the end of the first quarter, and the company plans to reduce this number to $12 billion by year-end 2016. It stated multiple times that it was going to do that with its cash flow. However, the real actions tell another story -- Freeport-McMoRan will rely on asset sales to reach its debt target.

Asset sales will continue
Earlier this year, Freeport-McMoRan sold its Eagle Ford assets to EnCana (NYSE: ECA  ) for $3.1 billion. Immediately after this news, the company announced that it was going to acquire deepwater Gulf of Mexico assets from Apache (NYSE: APA  ) for $1.4 billion. Freeport-McMoRan estimated that the combined after-tax net proceeds from these two transactions would be $1.3 billion. As these proceeds were planned to be used to repay debt, the debt will decline to $18.4 billion.

Still, that's a number that is far away from the $12 billion target, and the end of 2016 is not in the distant future. That's why a report in The Wall Street Journal indicating that the company is trying to sell is Candelaria mine in Chile is not a surprise.

Candelaria is one of four of Freeport-McMoRan's copper mines in South America, and it is one of the company's biggest mines. There's no way that this mine could be classified as a non-core asset. For sure, the sale of such a mine could raise several billion dollars, making Freeport-McMoRan closer to reaching its debt target.

Not a copper-focused player anymore
In a move to reflect the new reality, Freeport-McMoRan is going to change its name. The full name of the company is Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and will become Freeport-McMoRan starting July 14.

While these might look like cosmetic changes, the underlying processes are tectonic. Freeport-McMoRan is not a pure bet on copper anymore. Not just from the asset point of view but from the company's directional point of view as well. Freeport-McMoRan is increasingly interested in developing its Gulf of Mexico business, even at the expense of its copper assets.

Importantly, the company estimates that 68% of this year's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization will come from its mining assets, while 32% will be brought by oil and gas assets. Thus, copper will remain the main driver of the company's earnings in the near future. Freeport-McMoRan outlined its plans for copper sales through 2016, but recent developments put this plan into question.

According to Freeport-McMoRan's estimates, it will sell 4.3 billion pounds of copper in 2014, up from 4.1 billion pounds in 2013. This number is projected to grow to 5.7 billion pounds in 2016, reflecting additional pounds from Cerro Verde and Morenci expansions.

However, the 2014 target is likely to be revised when Freeport-McMoRan reports its second-quarter earnings this July. The company did not export copper concentrate from Indonesia for half a year and has yet to resolve this issue. If Freeport-McMoRan sells Candelaria, it will further diminish the company's sales both this year and in the future.

Bottom line
Asset sales are inevitable for Freeport-McMoRan given its ambitious debt-reduction target. However, the possible sale of the Candelaria mine puts the company's copper growth targets under question. What's more, it's time to think of Freeport-McMoRan as a diversified company rather than a copper producer with oil assets.

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Vladimir Zernov

Vladimir Zernov believes that fundamental analysis works best with energy and materials stocks and covers them on Motley Fool.

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