Agrium wins backing of proxy advisor Glass Lewis ahead of shareholder vote

TORONTO, March 26 Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:54pm EDT

TORONTO, March 26 (Reuters) - Influential advisory firm Glass Lewis advised its clients on Tuesday to back all 12 of Agrium Inc's board nominees, rejecting a five-member slate put forward by dissident investor Jana Partners.

The endorsement from the well-regarded proxy advisory firm is a boost for Agrium ahead of a shareholder vote on April 9 and follows similar recommendations from smaller firms like U.S.-based Egan-Jones and UK-based Pensions Investment Research Consultants.

"We are pleased that Glass Lewis has recommended that its subscribers support Agrium's slate of director nominees," said Agrium's chairman, Victor Zaleschuk, in a statement.

New York-based Jana, Agrium's largest shareholder with a 7.5 percent stake, has been agitating for change at Agrium for months, demanding a number of things like a split between its wholesale fertilizer production arm and its retail business, which sells seeds, crop protection chemicals, fertilizers and other farm products.

While Jana has argued that Agrium's retail business is undervalued within the combined entity, Agrium maintains that its retail arm acts as a buffer for the company because its wholesale business is typically cyclical in nature.

Agrium shareholders have already begun voting, but some big investors are still awaiting a recommendation from influential shareholder advisory services firm ISS, which has yet to weigh in on the proxy battle.

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