The war of words over the proposed shakeup at Agrium Inc. is starting to wear thin.
For months now, the duelling sides – Agrium on one, activist investor Jana Partners on the other – have fought a media battle to convince investors they have the best game plan. But at this point in the proxy battle, not much new is being said.
Jana's original argument – to spin out Agrium's retail division – was laid out long ago. In response, Agrium's management has met with shareholder after shareholder to counter Jana with its own ambitions. Now the two sides are simply rolling out news in bits and pieces, just to have something fresh to say. Just this morning, Jana laid out the names of Agrium directors that it could live with on the board, (never mind that such things were likely communicated long ago). And every time something new is written in the press or talked about on TV, the other team feels it's necessary to lay out their rebuttal, however insignificant.
The problem for both sides is that shareholders are starting to lose interest. "Investor fatigue has settled in, in our view, and we have seen little hedge fund/arb interest in this dispute," noted BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Joel Jackson, who's talked to a number of shareholders.
Investors already know what each side is arguing. They know because both circulars have been filed with each team's case laid out in full. Behind the scenes, both sides have also talked to shareholders enough to know where the major ones stand. And the truth is, many people expect a settlement before the annual general meeting on April 9.
On top of that, Mr. Jackson notes that many shareholders already believe the most important outcome of any proxy battle has already been realized.
"Many shareholders have indicated that whether Jana's nominees are ultimately successful or not, Jana has been successful in refocusing Agrium management for the present and future with many shareholders raising the question whether any Jana candidates on the board (with the agreed compensation arrangements) would further distract management's attention from running the company," Mr. Jackson noted.
If that's true, does one new director versus two really matter that much in the big scheme of things?
(Tim Kiladze is a Globe and Mail Reporter.)
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