* Barrios experience in trading could benefit Rio-analyst
* Cote with Alcan since 1988
* Some fear Rio focusing less on aluminium
(Adds comments from Canaccord analyst, details)
By Silvia Antonioli
LONDON, May 27 Rio Tinto , the
world's second-largest diversified miner, said on Tuesday it had
appointed an oil industry executive as the new head of its
aluminium business, starting from June 1.
Alfredo Barrios, 48, who has held various senior positions at
BP Plc since joining the UK oil company in 1992, will
replace aluminium industry veteran Jacynthe Cote, who will leave
to pursue other interests, Rio Tinto said in a statement.
Barrios' most recent role was at the joint venture TNK-BP,
one of Russia's biggest vertically integrated oil and gas
companies, where he was in charge of the refining, trading,
supply, logistics and marketing businesses.
Some think bringing in an outsider could offer Rio fresh
ideas on how to improve its aluminium business. The business,
like others in the market, suffers from a supply glut which is
weighing on prices.
"Given the fact that he comes from the trading, logistics
and marketing side he may bring some new ideas on how they can
further improve those parts of the business within aluminium and
take a bit of extra margin by being more creative," said
Canaccord analyst Peter Mallin-Jones.
Others, however, felt that Cote's departure might signal
Rio's reduced commitment to aluminium. After abandoning efforts
to sell the loss-making Pacific Aluminium business last year,
Rio executives have ruled out any new investments in the near
term in aluminium.
"The fact that Cote left, in my opinion, confirms that
aluminium has a limited timeframe within the Rio group. She has
been there too long to either watch it being sold off piecemeal
or underinvested in. That is probably rather unacceptable to
her," a second company analyst, who declined to be named, said.
"I don't see the background or the fit with Barrios for the
aluminium business so it probably says that the split up or the
divestment of the aluminium business is higher up in Rio's
agenda than people anticipated."
Cote had been with aluminium producer Alcan since 1988 and
joined Rio when it bought Alcan in 2007. She has been chief
executive of Rio Tinto Alcan since 2009 and will continue in an
advisory role until Sep. 1 to ensure a smooth transition, Rio
Barrios will be based in Montreal, subject to immigration
approvals, Rio Tinto said.
Aluminium accounts for about 4 percent of Rio's earnings
before interest and tax, against almost 90 percent from its iron
(Editing by Susan Thomas and Keiron Henderson)