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June 11 (Reuters) - SNC-Lavalin Group Inc Chief Operating Officer Ian Edwards will take over on an interim basis and conduct a quick strategic review, the Canadian construction company said on Tuesday, boosting its slumping shares 5% as investors hoped for a turnaround.
Edwards will take over as interim president and chief executive officer from Neil Bruce as the company's shares hover at near 15-year lows. Bruce, who has been at the helm for more than three years, will remain as an adviser to the board until the end of the year.
"The Board of Directors has asked Mr. Edwards to undertake a review of the strategic direction of the Company on an expedited basis and to develop a plan for sustainable success," the company said in its statement.
SNC-Lavalin faces a trial in Canada over fraud and corruption charges related to allegations that former executives paid bribes to win contracts in Libya under Muammar Gaddafi's regime, which fell in 2011. The company's efforts to reach a settlement led to a political scandal engulfing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Michael Willemse, a senior research analyst at Taylor Asset Management which holds SNC stock, said by phone that Bruces departure was not a surprise, given rumblings from shareholders since January, when the company cuts its 2018 profit forecast and shares tumbled.
Shares of the company have nearly halved in 2019, weighed down by trade challenges in Saudi Arabia, headwinds in metals and mining and the corruption charges. They jumped as much as 7 percent after the announcement and were later up 5% to C$24.94 in morning trading.
We look forward to see what Ian Edwards has planned to help move the company forward, Willemse said.
SNC last month said its board had formed a special committee to consider options to increase shareholder value, days after announcing its exit from 15 countries and a surprise quarterly loss in its main engineering and construction unit.
The company also accelerated simplification of its operating structure as well as targeting cost-cuts of over C$100 million ($74 million) for the rest of 2019 and C$250 million annually amid a restructuring of its operations.
Analysts at National Bank of Canada Financial Markets applauded the strategic review which appears to prioritize consistency and cash flow.
"If the company itself cannot get there, a privatization should also be strongly considered. We believe many shareholders will agree with our take on what makes sense from a directional perspective..," added the analysts, rating the company's shares "outperform."
The Montreal-based company is also caught in the crosshairs of an ongoing diplomatic spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada over a number of issues which have strained relations between the two countries. (Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and David Gregorio)