March 6 (Reuters) - Activist investor Casablanca Capital LP on Thursday nominated six directors for election to the board of Cliffs Natural Resources Inc, setting in motion a proxy battle for the iron ore producer that it wants split into two companies.
The New York-based hedge fund said the director slate, named ahead of Cliffs's annual meeting in May, includes Casablanca Chief Executive Officer Douglas Taylor as well as Lourenco Goncalves, former CEO of Metals USA.
Casablanca, which owns about 5.2 percent of Cliffs, first targeted the Cleveland-based company in January. It wants Cliffs, which was the second-worst performing stock in the S&P 500 Index last year, to spin off its "riskier" international operations from its cash-generating U.S. assets.
Last month, the fund named Goncalves as its preferred candidate for Cliffs's CEO and said it would nominate a majority slate to the company's 11-member board.
Other directors on the slate are: Rip Fisher, a former head of mining and Canadian corporate finance and investment banking at Goldman Sachs; Patrice Merrin, a director of Stillwater Mining; Joseph Rutkowski, former vice president of business development at Nucor Corp, and Gabriel Stoliar, managing partner of Studio Investimentos, an asset management firm.
Casablanca said in a statement on Thursday that its slate was "far better equipped than the incumbent board members to implement a new strategic direction for Cliffs...".
A Cliffs spokeswoman said the company would issue a statement later.
The annual meeting is scheduled for May 13.
Cliffs has in recent weeks taken a number of steps to transform the company, including naming a CEO, indefinitely suspending a planned expansion at its Bloom Lake mine in Canada, and idling Wabush, another Canadian mine.