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Jana takes 7.4-pct stake in Ashland

NEW YORK (AP) -- On the heels of its defeat in a proxy battle with fertilizer maker Agrium, hedge fund Jana disclosed Thursday that it has taken a 7.4-percent stake in chemicals company Ashland Inc.

Ashland shares rose 6 percent in aftermarket trading as investors digested the potential for changes to the company resulting from Jana Partners LLC's stake.

Jana now owns about 5.8 million shares in Ashland, making it the second-largest shareholder after Fidelity, which has a 9.7 percent stake.

In a form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jana said it believes Ashland shares are undervalued. Jana said it's had talks with the Covington, Ky., company's management about Ashland's business, corporate structure, capitalization, and strategy, and it plans to hold further discussions with management and the board. The firm said it could take steps intended to raise shareholder value.

News of Jana's move for Ashland comes after Agrium Inc., a Canadian fertilizer maker, pushed back against the hedge fund. On Tuesday, Agrium investors voted down Jana's five candidates for Agrium's board. All 12 of the directors proposed by Agrium were elected.

Jana spent more than $1 billion since last year to become Agrium's biggest shareholder, with a 7.5 percent stake.

Jana listed stock purchases in Ashland beginning Feb. 12.

Ashland said on Jan. 29 that its first-quarter revenue fell 3 percent due to soft demand in some key markets and regions. Its net income rose, but both its profit and revenue fell short of analyst expectations. Shares are off nearly 8 percent since then, although they're still up 32 percent over the past 12 months.

Ashland stock added 5.9 percent to $83.51 in after-hours trading. The stock had closed up $1.71, or 2.2 percent, to $78.83 in regular trading Thursday.