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Does It Pay to Mimic Carl Icahn's Moves?

Squire says that JANA Partners has a track record for outperforming the S&P 500 by a wide margin. He says that the activist has a good chance of success with Agrium because there are a variety of factors that could push up the stock price. "Even if they fail to split up the company, the stock could rise if there are better cost controls or better capital allocation," he says.

Stocks often bounce after a 13D filing is announced. But Squire says that it is not too late to invest after the initial jump. He says that the average holding period for an activist is 15 months. Often the deals take longer to complete, and some of the biggest gains occur late in the game.

Squire owns Howard Hughes (HHC), a stock that has benefited from a long period of activism. In 2010, veteran hedge fund operator Bill Ackman became chairman of the company, which operates commercial developments, including a Las Vegas project that was owned by the estate of billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes. Ackman is known for a series of high-profile activist moves, including investments in Target (TGT) and Procter & Gamble (PG).

As chairman of Howard Hughes, Ackman has faced a series of problems. Some of the real estate projects stumbled during the financial crisis, and development efforts were forced to halt. Now Ackman is obtaining financing and pushing forward with projects. "This is a situation where the activism has paid off, and they are running the company more efficiently," says Squire.

Squire also holds DineEquity (DIN), which owns two restaurant chains, Applebee's and International House of Pancakes. Last year hedge fund Marcato Capital Management made a 13D filing and called for the company to increase its dividend. Squire says that the activist effort is likely to succeed because the company has plenty of cash flow. The hedge fund is not calling to replace management. "I like this kind of deal because the activists can succeed without restructuring or overcoming major obstacles," he says.

At the time of publication, Luxenberg had no positions in securities mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Stock quotes in this article: DDDAX, HHC, AGU, DIN 
Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.

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