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Michael Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Agrium


In the latest sign of the investor activism jarring boardrooms, Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners has taken his appeal for the break-up of Canadian fertilizer group Agrium Inc. directly to shareholders.

In a detailed presentation addressing the company's recent history and what he called "missteps," Mr. Rosenstein attacked the company's management and its disclosures and said that the board lacked relevant experience.

Speaking at an investor conference in New York on Monday, Mr. Rosenstein repeated his call for Agrium, which distributes agricultural chemicals, to spin off its retail business from its more profitable wholesale operations.

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In an argument that centres on how to value Agrium and which other companies it is best compared to, Mr. Rosenstein said that the group "simply and astonishingly attempted to wipe the historical record of its prior comments regarding the undervaluation of retail."

His appeal follows last month's announcement by Agrium that it had considered Jana's proposal to split and had rejected it. "The board unanimously determined that a spin-off would not be in the best interests of the company or its shareholders," the company said.

New York-based Jana controls 4 per cent of Agrium and is the largest shareholder, with a stake worth close $700-million (U.S.). The hedge fund met with the company in May and June, delivering the analysis which it then published on Monday.

Following those meetings Agrium, which has a market capitalization of $16.9-billion, announced a $900-million share buyback and doubled its dividend, but rejected the core of Jana's argument.

Mr. Rosenstein's move comes in a year in which bankers say boards are commonly requesting activism defence work as they brace for moments such as this. Agrium has hired Morgan Stanley to advise on its fight with Jana.

New York hedge funds have also travelled north of the border frequently this year. Mason Capital is attempting to force Canadian telecoms provider Telus Corp. to pay a premium for its voting shares as it collapses its dual share structure.

Bill Ackman, head of Pershing Square, earlier this year won a battle for control of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., a venerable railway company. The activist was due to follow Mr. Rosenstein on stage at the Value Investing Congress in New York on Monday.

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An annual gathering of investors to swap ideas and hear pitches from some of the most high profile hedge fund managers in the industry, the conference is a high profile event where Mr. Ackman is expected to talk publicly for the first time about his latest campaign at the consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble Co.

Mr. Ackman met with the company last month and his presence on the shareholder register has prompted a flurry of research and commentary, but he has so far remained silent on his intentions for the group.

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