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Why Freeport-McMoRan Inc. Shares Fell 32% in January

By Reuben Gregg Brewer - Feb 6, 2016 at 10:07AM

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Freeport lost nearly a third of its value in one month, with oil again dragging it down

What: Freeport-McMoRan's (FCX 0.45%) shares fell a touch over 32% last month. That's a huge decline in a short 31 days. And that's after losing some 70% of its value in 2015. This is painful.

So what: As 2015 came to a close, Freeport-McMoRan announced a big change: The company's co-founder and chairman of the board James Moffett had decided to step down. With activist investor Carl Icahn in the mix, however, it might be more appropriate to say Moffett agreed to step down. He was a prime architect of the copper miner's shift into oil at what, in hindsight, proved to be exactly the wrong time.

So Freeport started 2016 with a bit of uncertainty in the air, and investors tend to hate uncertainty. So it makes sense that the shares have been shunned to some degree. Making matters worse, however, oil prices continued their slump into the new year. Although Moffett is out, the troubles facing the oil business he helped build aren't over yet, and falling prices just make turning this business around, or jettisoning it, that much harder. And then the company ended January by reporting predictably weak earnings for the fourth quarter and full year 2015.

It seems investors are right to have taken a dour view of Freeport McMoRan's shares in January, despite the steep share price drop in 2015.

Now what: Freeport McMoRan is in a bad spot. Risk will remain high until it figures something out on the oil side. And even then, the copper miner still has to deal with a difficult commodity market. Most investors are probably best off avoiding Freeport for now.

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