MELBOURNE, April 22 (Reuters) - Caltex Australia Ltd , the country's largest oil refiner, has snared the head of fertilizer and explosives group Incitec Pivot as its new chief executive, knocking Incitec's shares down 9 percent.
Incitec's Julian Segal will assume the reins at Caltex in July, replacing Des King who has been on secondment from Chevron , Caltex's major shareholder, and is due to return to the United States at the end of June.
'Mr Segal's strong track record, commercial skills and experience will be integral in further developing Caltex's strengths and ensuring that it is positioned well for the long term,' Caltex chairman Elizabeth Bryan said in a statement.
Segal joins Caltex as it tries to recover from a 95 percent fall in annual net profit, hurt by sharp currency movements, lower demand and oil prices, and unplanned refinery shutdowns.
His sudden exit after nearly four years at the helm of Australia's top fertiliser group comes as its shares have plunged in line with a slump in diammonium phosphate fertiliser prices to around one-third of last year's peak.
'It is a surprise,' Rob Patterson, managing director of Argo Investments, which owns a small stake in Incitec, said of Segal's departure.
Segal said the timing in the middle of a challenging year was not his choice, but that he grabbed the opportunity at Caltex, a smaller company, because he wanted to move back to Sydney, where his wife and two teenage children live.
'The fundamentals underpinning this business are still very strong. I really believe in the future of this company,' he told reporters on a conference call.
Under Segal, Incitec gained independence from its former majority owner Orica Ltd and last year bought most of the Dyno Nobel explosives business, becoming the world's second-largest maker of explosives for miners behind Orica.
Chairman John Watson said there would be no change in Incitec's strategy, and the group would hunt for someone who would focus on cutting costs at Dyno Nobel and look for international expansion opportunities.
The board let Segal leave days ahead of Incitec's first-half results on May 11 as it made more sense for the person who would be leading the group in the near term to present the results, Watson said.
The company has already warned it expects its full-year profit to fall 30 percent to around A$450 million ($320 million).
Incitec shares fell as much as 8.8 percent to A$2.06 in early trade, and last traded down 7.5 percent at A$2.09 in a market up 0.7 percent. The stock peaked just above A$9 back in June, 2008.
Caltex shares rose 3.3 percent to A$9.46.
'Julian is a highly respected CEO,' said an official at a fund that holds Incitec shares, who declined to be named due to fund policy.
Segal's job at Incitec will be filled temporarily by chief financial officer James Fazzino from May 8, the company said on Wednesday. The board said it would appoint consultants to consider international and internal candidates to replace Segal.
($1=1.406 Australian Dollar)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by James Thornhill)
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