(Adds CEO comment on ValueAct, retail outlook)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Agrium Inc has been in “friendly” talks with activist shareholder ValueAct Capital, Chief Executive Officer Chuck Magro said on Tuesday, adding that the hedge fund approves of the Canadian fertilizer company’s strategy.
ValueAct on Oct. 24 disclosed it had bought a 5.7 percent stake in the company, 1-1/2 years after Agrium won a proxy battle with another activist trying to breaking it up.
“We’ve had very good two-way dialogue” with ValueAct, Magro said on a conference call with analysts. “So far, what they’re telling me is the reason they’ve invested in Agrium is they like the strategic plan.”
After an analyst asked if ValueAct was seeking a board seat, Magro said he would not speak about the issues discussed.
San Francisco-based ValueAct did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Agrium’s shares have gained about 15 percent in Toronto since ValueAct disclosed its stake.
They were up nearly 1 percent in Toronto and New York on Tuesday afternoon after Agrium late on Monday reported a higher-than-expected third-quarter profit but gave a lackluster outlook for the current period.
Agrium makes nitrogen, potash and phosphate fertilizer, but unlike other big North American producers, it also owns a chain of stores to sell products to farmers.
The company said on Tuesday that it expected the North American farm retail market’s volume to slip by 1 percent to 3 percent in 2015, although it forecast a rise in its own retail earnings.
Magro said it would be a challenge for the Calgary, Alberta-based company to reach its goal of earning $1.3 billion before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2015. Agrium recorded $961 million in EBITDA last year, excluding some special items.
Prospects for record-large U.S. production of corn and soybeans have driven down prices, leading some farmers to pull back on applying fertilizer. (Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Von Ahn)