The activist investor Carl Icahn has almost quadrupled his stake in battered US oil producer Occidental Petroleum and called for its chief to be fired, two days after collapsing crude prices forced the company to cut its dividend.
Mr Icahn has waged a bitter campaign against Occidental’s leadership since last year, when the company agreed a debt-laden $55bn takeover of Anadarko Petroleum that has become a liability.
Mr Icahn’s New York firm disclosed in a filing Thursday that its affiliates had added more than 66m shares to their Occidental holdings, raising his stake to 9.9 per cent from 2.5 per cent.
“The Issuer’s CEO and Board unanimously voted to roll the dice and bet the Company by risking stockholder money on a disastrous acquisition. They lost the bet. They have egregiously failed OXY stockholders and should be removed,” the securities filing said.
Occidental’s share price had tumbled below $11 before the Icahn filing, from nearly $70 last year before chief executive Vicki Hollub saw off a rival bid from Chevron to capture Anadarko.
She had argued the merger would have brought efficiencies and a prime position in US shale oil acreage, but this week’s drop in oil prices to almost $30 a barrel forced the company to reduce its once-sacrosanct dividend by almost 90 per cent.
Mr Icahn had previously sought to remove four directors from Occidental’s board. In an attempted olive branch, the company previously announced that board chairman Eugene Batchelder would step down at this year’s board meeting.
Mr Icahn suggested Occidental should now itself be sold. “Because of the industry consolidation we believe will occur, we expect strong bids to emerge for OXY. At that time, we will need a Board that will encourage, not discourage, potential bids, and who will allow shareholders to decide whether or not to accept them,” his filing said.
Occidental did not immediately response to a request for comment. Shares were up 24 per cent at $14.66 after the Icahn filing was made public.
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