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Jun 20, 2017

Ferguson exit 'not enough' to change Cenovus culture: Investor

Brian Ferguson's exit 'not enough' to change Cenovus culture: Coerente Capital

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A change at the top is “not enough” to right the ship at Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO), according to one investor.

Cenovus is hunting for a new chief executive officer after the company announced early Tuesday Brian Ferguson is retiring at the end of October. The company’s shares dropped more than eight per cent in early trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, trading down 89 cents at $9.39 as of 9:45 a.m. ET. 

However, Len Racioppo, managing director at Coerente Capital - which owns about 500,000 Cenovus shares – says there’s more work still to be done.

“It is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” Racioppo told BNN on Tuesday.

“I think if you look at this company since it was spun out of Encana – and remember the strategy was that this was going to be an oil sands company and that the oil and gas was left behind with Encana … and we’re back in the oil and gas business and oil sands.” said Racioppo.

“Now they’re telling us they’re going through massive rounds of cost-cutting and asset sales,”  Racioppo added. “That’s déjà vu all over again. We just went through that.”

“It has not been executed well (there’s been) poor decision-making. You need to change the board as well… You need a pretty significant cultural change here.”

Racioppo asked regulators to stop the company’s $17 billion purchase of ConocoPhillips (COP.N) assets in April

Ferguson’s exit was disclosed just hours before the company held its investor day in Toronto, where the CEO was expected to face questions about the ConocoPhillips deal.

Racioppo didn’t dismiss the prospect of activist investors getting involved wih the company, but stressed a greater need for consolidation within Canada’s oil and gas sector.

“It’s possible,” Racioppo said of activist prospects, adding “I think this industry needs to consolidate. I don’t know what kind of appetite others will have with the debt-level that Cenovus has, but those are all things that we’ll look at.”

Cenovus said in a release it will launch a “broad global search” for its next president and chief executive.

“On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Brian for the significant contribution he has made to Cenovus,” said Cenovus Chair Pat Daniel in a statement.

Ferguson will serve as an advisor to the board until March 31, 2018.

"The timing does scream that the market and the board is not happy with this [Conoco] acquisition," said LOGiQ Asset Management Portfolio Manager Greg Taylor in an interview with BNN.

"There was a lot of speculation today’s investor day would be rather heated – there would be a lot of people debating, yelling at and calling for his head. So they put it on a platter before the event got there."

Cenovus also announced on Tuesday it's aiming to sell up to $5 billion worth of non-core assets by the end of this year. It's also targeting $1 billion in cost reductions over the next three years.