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Hedge fund activists buy McDonald's, but are they lovin' it?

A McDonald's logo is seen at one of the chain's restaurants in San Francisco, California, May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

By Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Ablan

(Reuters) - Some of the top U.S. hedge fund investors and activists, including Jana Partners LLC took new positions or raised their equity stakes in fast food chain McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) during the first quarter, according to regulatory filings on Friday.

Jana, run by Barry Rosenstein and known as a practitioner of activist investing, took a new 125,000 share stake in McDonald's after having sold a small position in the fourth quarter. Keith Meister's Corvex Management LP also took a new position in the company, buying 205,000 shares. Meister was billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn's right-hand man prior to founding Corvex.

Larry Robbins' Glenview Capital Management added a new position in McDonald's, buying 2.9 million shares during the first quarter. Highfields Capital Management LP raised its stake more than 1,000 percent to 9.8 million shares, valued at about $955.6 million, as of March 31.

The 13F filing on Friday also indicated that Highfields purchased call options valued at $417.3 million. That would bring the total value of the Highfields investment in McDonald's to about $1.37 billion, as of March 31.

Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's has seen sales slump as rivals such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N) and Shake Shack Inc (SHAK.O) attract consumers with food perceived as fresher, tastier and higher in quality, and for which they can charge more.

McDonald's has also tried to address consumer perceptions of slow service, and begun paring a menu that has increased in complexity over the years to make it easier for workers to serve food quickly.

Earlier this month, new Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook announced plans to reduce McDonald's bureaucracy, sell off 3,500 restaurants by 2018, and take other steps to keep up with changing consumer tastes. He said he would not "shy away from the urgent need to reset this business."

Underwhelmed investors sent McDonald's shares down that day. The company has also been a focal point of a nationwide push to raise the minimum wage to as much as $15 per hour.

McDonald's annual shareholder meeting will be held on May 21 in Oak Brook.

McDonald's shares have badly lagged its rivals' and the overall market in recent years.

Since the end of 2011, McDonald's has fallen 2 percent, while Taco Bell parent Yum Brands Inc (YUM.N) has risen 59 percent and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc (CMG.N) leaped 87 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 (.SPX) rose 69 percent.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Jennifer Ablan in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)