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A major shareholder in Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) urged a vote of no confidence against two company board members up for re-election next month, the latest volley in a war of words between the natural-gas producer and its own investors.
Chesapeake's relationship with investors has come to a head in the wake of revelations that co-founder and Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon received up to $1.4 billion in loans from companies doing business with Chesapeake. Some shareholders also fear the company is too dependent on debt as it refocuses its production to oil instead of natural gas, prices of which reached a decades low in April.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a letter to fellow shareholders said that an overhaul of company management is required to turn around Chesapeake, the largest natural-gas producer after Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM). The Oklahoma City-based company has lost nearly $1.5 billion in market capitalization since mid-April amid low natural-gas prices and loss of confidence in the company's leadership.
"I am pained to watch our investment free-fall as shares plummet to lows not seen even during the recent financial crisis," DiNapoli said in a letter to shareholders. "Since only two directors are up for re-election this year, our withold votes...should be viewed as a proxy for the performance of the entire board."
DiNapoli follows proxy advisor firms ISI and Glass, Lewis in advising a "withold" vote against the two Chesapeake board members up for re-election, basically a vote of no confidence. Activist investor Carl Icahn, who announced Friday a 7.6% stake in the company, is seeking to replace four board members.
The New York Comptroller Office holds 3.5 million shares in Chesapeake.
Chesapeake has said it stands by its board, which last month implemented a 20% cut in its total compensation and has promised to replace McClendon as board chairman.
-By Ben Lefebvre, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9201; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @bjlefebvre
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