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Activist investor Jana Partners reduces Agrium stake, pleased with changes

CALGARY – Jana Partners, the New York activist hedge fund that waged a proxy fight against Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU), said Thursday it has reduced its stake in the fertilizer giant.

Still, the fund will remain among Agrium’s biggest shareholders with a 2.7 per cent stake, down from its previous 7.6 per cent position.

Jana said in a filing to U.S. regulators that the decision was made “in the course of managing its overall portfolio.”

During the bitter boardroom battle, which began in the spring of 2012 and ended in April of this year, Jana pushed for several changes at Agrium. The proposal that garnered the most attention was to look at splitting up Agrium’s retail and wholesale businesses.

Jana also wanted Agrium to improve capital allocation, costs, disclosure in its retail business and corporate governance.

“While (Jana) continues to believe there are opportunities for substantial improvement in each of these areas, it is pleased by (Agrium’s) progress in many of them since (Jana’s) initial engagement with (Agrium),” Jana said in the filing.

For instance, Agrium has returned more cash to shareholders in the form of increased dividends and share buybacks. It has also started disclosing more financial information about its retail segment and factoring that performance into management’s compensation, Jana said.

Last week, Agrium announced CEO Mike Wilson will be retiring in the new year, to be replaced by current chief operating officer Chuck Magro. Jana said it expects those changes, combined with several scheduled board retirements, should improve Agrium’s “openness and responsiveness to proposals for value creating change.”

Jana says it still believes Agrium should at least conduct an unbiased review of splitting up its retail and wholesale segments, but says a newly increased dividend should help investors better appreciate the steady retail cash flow.