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TheStreet Open House

Funds Tinker With Defused Chesapeake Convertibles: Street Whispers

In second quarter 13F filings with the SEC, Chesapeake's largest shareholder Southeastern Asset Management, run by Mason Hawkins, bolstered its leading stock position in Chesapeake by roughly 3.5% in the second quarter, buying up roughly 3.12 million shares. The share increase puts Southeastern's stake in Chesapeake Energy at nearly 90 million shares, or roughly 13.5% of the company, according to SEC filings.

After disclosing a stake that amounts to roughly $1 billion or 7.5% of Chesapeake's stock, activist investor Carl Icahn's filings show he didn't add to his position in the driller, which is the second leading producer of natural gas in the U.S. to ExxonMobil.

In June, Southeastern and Icahn's activist campaign led to a reshaping of Chesapeake's board, highlighted by the separation of co-founder Aubrey McClendon's CEO and chairman role. In the overhaul, McClendon was replaced as chairman by former ConocoPhillips (COP) chair Archie Dunham, but maintains his chief executive role.

Chesapeake also elected four other independent members to its nine-member board of directors, including three proposed by the company's largest shareholder Southeastern Asset Management and one proposed by Icahn. Those elections and Dunham's replacement of embattled CEO McClendon as chairman came as a quick response to calls for drastic change that will help Chesapeake better manage its finances as a cash crunch looms.

Year-to-date shares are off over 14% and nearly 40% in the past 12 months, amid concerns about its balance sheet, loans taken out by CEO McClendon tied to a 2.5% personal investment in wells that the company has drilled over the years, a federal investigation into allegations of price fixing in land acquisitions made by Chesapeake and rival Encana, as well as the decline in natural gas pricing to a level that remains uneconomic for many drilling companies.

In second quarter earnings, Chesapeake said it expects $7 billion in divestitures during the third quarter, helping to propel overall 2012 asset sales to over $14 billion.

Those sales are seen by analysts and ratings agencies as key to the company's outlook and have been a key management benchmark for most of 2012, as revelations about CEO McClendon's personal dealings and federal investigations into the company's operations cloud its outlook.

For more hedge fund investments, see why Moore Capital fled JPMorgan and why John Paulson is winning from merger arbitrage bets amid a rocky 2012.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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