Ashland raises dividend, buybacks after Jana picks up stake

Wed May 15, 2013 7:17am EDT

May 15 (Reuters) - Chemical maker Ashland Inc raised its quarterly dividend by more than 50 percent and nearly doubled its share buyback program, a month after hedge fund Jana Partners LLC picked up a large stake.

Ashland's board raised the quarterly cash dividend to 34 cents per share from 22.5 cents. This is the highest dividend the company has paid, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The chemical maker also unveiled a $600 million stock repurchase plan, replacing a previous program that had about $330 million remaining.

"We will continue to look for ways to unlock value and generate significant returns for Ashland shareholders," Chief Executive James O'Brien said in a statement.

Barry Rosenstein's Jana Partners had said Ashland's shares were undervalued when it picked up a 7.4 percent stake in April.

The hedge fund, the second-largest shareholder in the company, has held discussions with Ashland about the company's business, corporate structure, capitalization, operations, strategy and future plans.

Jana Partners is also lobbying for change at oilfield services provider Oil States International Inc

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