Teck CEO defends strategy at mining conference as investors launch criticism

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The CEO of Teck Resources Ltd. defended his company’s growth strategy on Tuesday as dissident shareholders criticized what they called “underperforming” investments in coal and oilsands.

“Our strategy is very straight forward,” said CEO Don Lindsay in a webcast speech at the online Bank of America Securities Global Metals, Mining and Steel conference.

“Teck is implementing a copper growth strategy financed by the strong cash flows from steel-making coal and zinc. We are focused on rebalancing our portfolio to ultimately make our copper business bigger than our coal business, beginning with QB2, which will double our copper production on a consolidated basis.”

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Construction of the US$5.2-billion Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 copper mine expansion in Chile is gradually returning to normal after the project was halted due to measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic, Lindsay said.

It is expected to open in 2022.

Copper’s future is bright because of its use in electric vehicles, clean power plants and transmission lines, along with its antimicrobial properties that are attracting attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

American investment firm Impala Asset Management released on its website this week excerpts from a letter to Teck’s board criticizing the company’s performance in the 15 years Lindsay has been in charge.

The criticisms are similar to those reportedly made by Tribeca Investment Partners earlier this month.

Impala charges destruction of more than $12 billion of shareholder value through Teck’s purchase of B.C. coal mines, its investment in the recently cancelled Frontier oilsands mine, other oilsands investments and the expansion of the Neptune terminals on the West Coast.

Teck’s shares closed Tuesday at $12.12. Its 52-week high of $30.81 was set last June.

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Lindsay said Teck’s current woes are caused by historically low prices for its products, including coal, zinc, copper and oilsands bitumen.

“Our operating margins have fallen dramatically over the past 12 months due to commodity price declines and the impact of that is clear,” he said.

“But the underlying strength and longevity of the world-class assets in our portfolio has not changed and it represents significant upside potential once we emerge from this period.”

He reiterated a commitment to consider selling Teck’s minority stake in the Fort Hills oilsands mine in northern Alberta if the value of the project is not reflected in its share price.

In an email response to the investor criticism, Teck spokesman Chris Stannell pointed out shareholders voted 98 per cent in favour of retaining Lindsay and other board members recently and the board chairman has indicated full support for company management.

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Teck is primarily controlled by the Keevil family through its dual-class shares system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TECK)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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