Freeport-McMoRan Chairman James R. Moffett steps down

Freeport-McMoRan co-founder James Moffett will step down as chairman and quit its board, months after the miner added two new directors under pressure from billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Freeport said Moffett, who had been appointed chairman emeritus, would be a consultant to its board and advise the company on its Indonesia operations, including Grasberg.

Moffett was instrumental in the discovery and development of Grasberg, one of the world's biggest gold and copper deposits.

The company's shares fell 7.9 percent to $6.97 in morning trading.

Moffett stepping down probably has more to do with a health problem rather than pressure from Icahn, Bradford Research analyst Charles Bradford told Reuters.

Icahn, who owned 8.8 percent stake in Freeport as of Sept. 22, has criticized the miner's spending, capital structure and executive compensation at a time when the company is struggling with weak commodity prices.

Icahn and Freeport reached an agreement in October, putting "restrictions" on the activist investor seeking the removal of any board members.

The company said then that it would shrink the size of its board from 16 to nine members, and separate its oil and gas business from its mining operations.

Freeport also said on Monday that it appointed Gerald Ford non-executive chairman, effective Dec. 31. Ford has been the company's lead independent director since 2013.

Freeport entered the oil and gas business in 2013 with the acquisitions of Plains Exploration and McMoRan Exploration for $9 billion. The move raised eyebrows because Moffett was also McMoRan's largest individual shareholder and its chief executive.

In his new role, Moffett will receive an annual consulting fee of $1.5 million, Freeport said in a regulatory filing.

Moffett's departure comes a couple of months after Freeport scrapped its unusual "Office of the Chairman" structure.

The "office," which comprised Moffett, Chief Executive Richard Adkerson and the company's oil and gas business President James Flores, was seen as drowning out the voice of the lead independent director.