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Citi analyst backs "Sell" for Freeport-McMoRan

NEW YORK (AP) -- A Citi analyst on Monday added Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. to the investment bank's list of top stocks to sell, saying that he expects copper prices to continue to slide over the next several months.

THE BACKGROUND: The Phoenix-based mining company's shares have tumbled 48 percent over the past two years, hurt by fluctuations in commodity prices and an investor backlash against its acquisitions of Plains Exploration & Production Co. and McMoRan Exploration Co.

Freeport-McMoran paid about $6.2 billion for oil and gas producer Plains and $2.2 billion for the shares of energy producer McMoRan that it did not already hold.

The acquisitions were controversial when they were announced in December, with discontent among some investors who thought they were too expensive for the copper and gold miner.

THE OPINION: Citi's Brian Yu, who added Freeport-McMoRan to Citi's "Top Picks Live!" list with a "Sell" rating, said he expects copper prices to continue to slide over the next several months, as production increases and demand slows.

He noted that mines in Mongolia will begin shipping copper soon, while Freeport-McMoran's mine in Indonesia recently received government approval to restart production after being shut down following a collapse that killed 28 workers. At the same time, demand for copper in China is slowing, he said.

Yu also noted that the company's debt levels rose significantly with the closing of the Plains and McMoRan Exploration acquisitions and it will be tough for the company to reduce that debt without cutting capital spending.

THE SHARES: Up 4 cents to $28.09 in midday trading. The stock has changed hands between $26.37 and $43.65 in the past 52 weeks.