(New throughout, adds comments from analyst, Ecopetrol, production data)
By Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Ecopetrol will replace Chief Executive Javier Gutierrez after eight years, the board said on Friday, as Colombia’s state-run oil company seeks to shift strategy after falling far short of production goals and seeing its stock plummet.
Ecopetrol shares have have shed about two-thirds of their value since early 2013. Its woes were compounded by a 41 percent plunge in third-quarter profits due to the sharp drop in oil prices and production bottlenecks.
The board said it would turn to international head-hunting firms to help find Gutierrez’s replacement, and hoped to have a name to announce by the next shareholder assembly. Gutierrez will remain until then, it said.
“Under his management, the company managed to double hydrocarbon production, enabling Colombia to enter into the group of the world’s 20 biggest oil producers,” the board’s statement said, thanking Gutierrez for his achievements.
Analysts said Ecopetrol was in a difficult position after falling far short of ambitious production targets announced around five years ago. Some of the reasons, such as attacks on pipelines and regulatory delays, were beyond company control.
“I don’t think the shareholders wanted his head, because he had a good reputation. But it’s a bad period and sometimes they promised to deliver some very difficult things,” said analyst Diego Usme, from Bogota stock broker Ultrabursatiles.
Ecopetrol had aimed for output of 1 million barrels by 2015 and 1.3 million barrels by 2020. Just weeks from the million-barrel target date, its most recent production figure showed consolidated output, including subsidiaries, of just 754,800 barrels including gas.
The company statement said Gutierrez’s exit was part of a “strategic change of course.” Analysts said the decision was intended to boost confidence.
“The company has unfortunately struggled to grow recently. If they are switching strategy then maybe that requires new leadership,” said analyst Darren Engels of First Energy Capital Corp, an investment bank focused on the petroleum sector.
Investors may wonder how much difference a new strategy will make, and whether a new CEO can cope any better with external factors contributing to Ecopetrol’s struggles.
In recent years, leftist rebel groups have intensified bomb attacks that have shut oil pipelines for days each time. Ecopetrol, like other companies, has also been snared in regulatory delays to obtain permits to develop new areas.
Ecopetrol shares traded in Bogota were barely changed from Thursday’s closing price of 1,890 pesos ($0.79).
$1 = 2,400 pesos Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio