Cliffs shares drop after downgrade, price target cut

Wed Mar 27, 2013 11:18am EDT

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(Reuters) - Shares of Cliffs Natural Resources Inc (CLF.N) dropped more than 14 percent on Wednesday after Morgan Stanley downgraded the miner's stock and Credit Suisse slashed its price target on the shares to $10 from $30.

A big increase in the supply of iron ore pellets in the Great Lakes region over the next three years could hit earnings from Cliffs' U.S. iron ore segment hard, Morgan Stanley analyst Evan Kurtz said in a note to clients.

Credit Suisse analyst Nathan Littlewood, who also sees a looming pellet surplus in the Great Lakes, said Cliffs may need to consider "drastic solutions" to shore up its balance sheet in the next 12 months, from selling iron ore assets in the Asia-Pacific region to a multibillion-dollar equity offering.

"Major reform is required if this business is to survive the next commodities cycle, in our view," Littlewood said in a note to clients.

Kurtz downgraded the stock to "underweight" from "equal-weight."

U.S. iron ore was responsible for about 60 percent of Cliffs' earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) in 2012, Kurtz said, and the segment's EBITDA could drop by half.

In contrast, Goldman Sachs analyst Sal Tharani upgraded Cliffs to "neutral" from "sell" on Wednesday. "After recent underperformance, near-term risk-reward appears more balanced," Tharani said in a note to clients.

Even before Wednesday's decline, Cliffs' stock had fallen 70 percent over the past 12 months. In February the company reported a quarterly loss, hurt by a $1 billion writedown and iron ore prices that swooned in the autumn on weak demand from China, the world's largest producer and consumer of steel.

At the same time, the company cut its dividend by 76 percent and announced an equity offering, later priced to raise up to $1 billion.

Cliffs shares were down 14.5 percent at $18.32 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Allison Martell)

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