ValueAct, Agrium In 'Very Good Two-Way Dialogue'

We found out last week that activist hedge fund ValueAct Capital had built up a large position Agrium Inc. (NYSE:AGU) (TSE:AGU), and based on recent comments from Agrium CEO Chuck Magro it sounds like the two sides are off to an amicable start and ValueAct isn’t making any big demands upfront.

“We’ve had very good two-way dialogue,” said Magro, reports Rod Nickel for Reuters. “So far, what they’re telling me is the reason they’ve invested in Agrium is they like the strategic plan.”

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Magro wouldn’t say if ValueAct wants a board seat

Magro wouldn’t comment on whether or not ValueAct is seeking a board seat, but we know that the fund’s normal approach is to ask for a single board seat (partly because it’s so hard for management to turn down such a mild request) and then send the person with the most knowledge of the business from their side to explain their ideas and influence board decisions over a longer period of time. That’s not to say ValueAct would never start a proxy fight, but this soft power, long-term approach to activism works better when the management has agreed to their having a seat at the table.

Agrium still up following ValueAct filing

Agrium Inc. (NYSE:AGU) (TSE:AGU) stock price shot up after the announcement that ValueAct had taken a position (and that it had been willing to pay in the mid $90s to do so), and it has only continued to appreciate in the last few days. Based on ValueAct’s reputation, and the lack of social media invective that often accompanies other activist funds campaigns, you could have guessed that it and Agrium were in talks, but it’s still important to get some confirmation from the CEO.

It’s still not clear what specifically ValueAct wants to accomplish by getting involved in Agrium Inc. (NYSE:AGU) (TSE:AGU), and we might not find out right away. If ValueAct likes Agrium’s strategic plan, then it probably won’t be looking to make and big, sudden changes. For investors thinking about ValueAct into the deal, it’s probably better to think of ValueAct’s presence (assuming they do end up with a board seat) as a tailwind to whatever valuation you already had for Agrium instead of a special event that will unlock value in the near term.