(Adds details on new CEO, analyst comment)
By Peter Murphy and Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA, March 5 (Reuters) - Colombia’s state-run oil company Ecopetrol has appointed former Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry as its chief executive officer, it said on Thursday, a change of leadership that comes after a long slide in share prices and profits.
The company said in December it would replace Javier Gutierrez as CEO as soon as a replacement could be found, and praised his achievement in sharply increasing oil production during his eight years at Ecopetrol.
Echeverry, 52, will take up the position from April 6, the company said in a regulatory filing issued shortly after a board vote of 6-3 that confirmed his appointment.
“With his ample knowledge of the economy, his ability to lead in times of change, his experience in public administration and having been a member of the board of directors, he meets the criteria to advance reforms at Ecopetrol that the current international price scenario requires,” the statement said.
The economist will take the reins at a tough time for Ecopetrol following a drop of one-third in the value of its shares in the last six months, due largely to the plunge in international oil prices that forced it to slash investment.
Last week the company announced a fourth-quarter loss of $338 million, and a 43 percent dive in profits in 2014 versus the previous year.
Echeverry served on Ecopetrol’s board of directors during his two years as finance minister from August 2010. In the last decade he has run an economic consultancy and carried out research for the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
The new CEO may also step into the role in the middle of strike action which the country’s main oil workers’ union has threatened to start some time after March 26, in protest of layoffs of contractors throughout the sector.
He has taught economics at two Colombian universities and at New York University and is a widely published researcher with articles on Colombian oil and development economics and three books on Colombia’s economy.
“Juan Carlos Echeverry has a great technical mind and has proven to have a very good feel for politics in Colombia. It’s also worth noting that Wall Street knows very well who he is and investors have great respect for his career,” Alberto Bernal, partner at Bulltick Capital Markets in Miami, told Reuters recently.
“I predict the market will welcome his appointment,” he said. (Editing by Lisa Shumaker)