CAMPAIGN: Coeur talks to its investors to keep company digging

PR Team: Makovsky & Co. (New York), and Coeur d'Alene Mining (Coeur d'Alene, ID) Campaign: The New Coeur Time Frame: Late 2001-late 2002 Budget: $120,000

PR Team: Makovsky & Co. (New York), and Coeur d'Alene Mining (Coeur d'Alene, ID) Campaign: The New Coeur Time Frame: Late 2001-late 2002 Budget: $120,000

Coeur d'Alene Mines' financial canary was still breathing in late 2001, but its nagging cough was hard to miss. The 80-year-old company's stock price had fallen to 65 cents, putting it in danger of delisting by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). "If that had happened, that would have made restructuring impossible," explains group VP Gene Marbach of Makovsky & Co., a New York IR firm Coeur hired to help it communicate through the rough spots. The company's share price topped out at $25.75 in July 1996, but tumbled later that year after a New Zealand mine collapsed and losses mounted at a Chilean facility. Coeur ultimately settled a class-action lawsuit brought by investors, who claimed that CEO Dennis Wheeler and his CFO had painted too rosy a financial picture. Then, Coeur sued the company from which it purchased the unstable New Zealand property. Few industries could have been considered more "old economy" in the late 1990s than silver mining. Precious-metal prices dropped as investors put money into dot-coms, and Coeur's high debt and operational costs made it particularly vulnerable. Even Coeur's auditor, Arthur Andersen, raised concerns about its viability. Strategy Part of Coeur's financial-recovery plans centered on converting debt to equity, which wouldn't have been an option if the stock were delisted. "We got them to think in terms of that listing being as important an asset as any of the holes in the ground," Marbach says. The overarching objective was to preserve the NYSE listing while communicating the "new Coeur" to constituents such as regulators, investors, and employees. Tactics Makovsky personnel discreetly interviewed a few Wall Street professionals (who viewed the company pessimistically) without focusing on its restructuring efforts, which included reducing debt and operating costs, and bringing online new lower-cost South American mines. But at the campaign's core were face-to-face meetings Makovsky helped set up with NYSE officials. Coeur execs conducted presentations stressing their commitment to turning the company around, Marbach says. "They were quite proactive," says an NYSE exec familiar with the case. "Dennis, the CEO, was extremely visible here." Messaging not only focused on Coeur's revamped balance sheet, but played up opportunities to take advantage of rising silver prices by investing in a company whose primary business was mining the metal. "It was really geared around the new Coeur," says corporate development VP Mitch Krebs. "While still wanting to project ourselves as steady and consistent, we are now kind of reinventing ourselves." Analyst outreach focused on investment firms that specialize in selling stocks as opposed to funds that buy them, since far more retail buyers than institutional investors owned shares, explains Krebs, who handled IR at the time. Makovsky also helped redesign Coeur's financial presentations and press releases, moving away from mining lingo, and instead focusing on Coeur's recovery plans. Results The NYSE removed Coeur from its watch list in June 2002, and restored its "good standing" status. The stock price rose to $2.50, but has since dropped back to the $1.50 range as debt/equity swaps diluted its value. Barron's and Bloomberg reported favorably on the company. An analyst for Bear Stearns, the only brokerage firm that keeps regular tabs on Coeur, predicted a share-price increase to $3.50. In the August 2002 Barron's article, Wheeler predicted Coeur's shares would be trading at $5 within nine months. Krebs attributes the failure to meet that goal to silver prices not living up to the company's expectations. According to its fourth-quarter financial press release, Coeur reported a net loss of $1.04 per share for 2002. Future "We're now finally getting to where we can really target the institutional investors," Krebs says. Coeur plans to continue using messages Makovsky helped develop to interest more analysts in covering the stock. Makovsky's relationship with Coeur ended late last year, and the company recently hired a new investor relations director, Tony Ebersole.

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