UPDATE 1-Jana raises Agrium stake; board candidates buy shares

Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:51pm EST

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Activist hedge fund Jana Partners has boosted its stake in Canadian fertilizer company Agrium Inc to 7.5 percent, and several Jana nominees to the Agrium board have also bought shares, U.S. regulatory filings showed on Thursday.

Jana, Agrium's biggest shareholder, wants major changes at the company, and talks for a truce in their drawn-out battle broke down earlier this month, setting the stage for a proxy fight.

Jana owned 11.2 million Agrium shares worth $1 billion as of Wednesday, according to the fund's filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That's an increase of 1.4 million shares since settlement talks ended on Feb. 11, when Jana's stake was 6.6 percent.

The fund has proposed five candidates for Agrium's 11-member board, aiming to separate the company's farm retail division from its fertilizer wholesale arm, as well as taking other steps aimed at improving returns to shareholders and retail performance.

Agrium's annual general meeting is scheduled for April 9 in Calgary, Alberta.

Four of Jana's board candidates have bought stakes in Agrium:

Mitchell Jacobson, chairman of MSC Industrial Direct Co Inc , spent $12.9 million to buy 133,500 shares, or a 0.09 stake; David Bullock, a former executive with United Agri Products (UAP), Stephen Clark, former CEO of Brenntag North America, and former Canadian Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief bought 2,000, 2,000 and 100 shares, respectively.

Collectively, Jana and its candidates own just less than 7.6 percent of Agrium.

Agrium's stock was down 2 percent at midday on Thursday after touching an all-time high of C116.38 on Jan. 28. The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results after the stock market close.

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