Hedge fund claims win in vote to control Cliffs, which employs 1,836 in Minn.

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2014 - 10:24 PM

Shareholders voted on who will control the firm that runs some of Minnesota’s biggest mines, but results weren’t announced.

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Shareholders in Cliffs Natural Resources voted Tuesday whether to change ownership. One of the company's operations in Minnesota is North Shore Mining in Babbitt, shown in a file photo.

Photo: Richard Sennott, STAR TRIBUNE

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A New York hedge fund claimed victory in its bid to take control of Cliffs Natural Resources, a global mining firm with extensive operations in northern Minnesota.

Casablanca Capital says its preliminary estimate of votes from a shareholders’ meeting Tuesday indicates that it won six of 11 seats on the board of the Cleveland-based company. The official tally won’t be released for up to three days.

Cliffs has 1,836 employees in northeast Minnesota and a payroll in the state of $256 million. But the shake-up isn’t likely to have a dramatic effect on its iron ore operations in Minnesota, where the firm owns and runs taconite mines in Silver Bay, Babbitt, Eveleth and Forbes, and co-owns and operates Hibbing Taconite.

Casablanca has argued that the mining firm should focus on its 165-year-old North American iron ore business, a big part of it on Minnesota’s Iron Range, and quit spending money on iron ore mines in eastern Canada and Asia and coal mines in North America. The hedge fund also has criticized the way Cliffs has rewarded management despite a steep dive in the company’s stock price over the past three years.

“We are grateful to our fellow Cliffs shareholders for their careful consideration of the issues and gratified that they have sent a resounding message of support for our efforts to drive meaningful change at Cliffs, bring true accountability to the company’s leadership and restore shareholder value,” said Donald Drapkin, chairman of Casablanca.

Casablanca, which owns a 5.2 percent stake in Cliffs, began a battle to take over the board in March after failing to persuade the board to replace management. If it is confirmed that Casablanca won Tuesday’s vote, the new board will replace CEO Gary Halverson with its own candidate, Laurenco Goncalves, former CEO of Metals USA.

The vote hasn’t been certified, however. In a statement Tuesday, Cliffs said, “We look forward to receiving the final results of today’s vote, and the board and management team remain deeply committed to continuing to create long-term value for all of our shareholders.

“We appreciate the support of the Cliffs shareholders who supported the company’s slate and the hard work every day by Cliffs’ more than 6,000 employees.”

The company’s stock has dropped from nearly $100 per share in 2011 to $16.60 per share when the market opened Tuesday, weighed down by money-losing operations in Canada and weakness in the global market for steel. Once Casablanca Capital claimed victory in Tuesday’s vote, shares of Cliffs rose 6.2 percent to close at $17.62.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405

Twitter: @adambelz

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