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Icahn, BlackRock Bullish on Chesapeake; Shares Rise

Chesapeake Energy shares soared late in trading Thursday on revelations that Carl Icahn and BlackRock have been on a buying spree.

The embattled natural-gas driller’s stock soared more than 3 percent in the final hour of trading on the New York Stock Exchange to close at $15.58 after a report that activist shareholder Carl Icahn may have bought as much as 4 percent of Chesapeake’s outstanding shares — a plan that CNBC first reported May 1.

In addition, at least one active portfolio manager at BlackRock, whose fund had previously held roughly 1 million Chesapeake shares, has increased that stake several times over in recent days, says a person familiar with the matter, increasing the company’s holdings in Chesapeake by 4 million shares or more.

That move may leave BlackRock with 4 percent or more of Chesapeake’s outstanding equity. (Public filings reflect all of BlackRock’s holdings in stocks, including its index funds, so it’s difficult to determine whether the decision of one active portfolio manager has changed the money management company’s overall Chesapeake holdings until those regulatory reports are updated. As of late March, BlackRock held 2.59 percent of the driller’s shares in total.)

Chesapeake’s supporters say that the company’s planned asset sales are going well, and that the company’s corporate-governance issues — which include historically high compensation for CEO Aubrey McClendon and company directors, a controversial equity-participation program in the company’s wells, and the fact that McClendon for at least four years ran an outside hedge fund while also running Chesapeake — have little bearing on a fundamental analysis of the stock.

A spokesman for Chesapeake declined to comment. But in recent days, the company has defended itself against shareholder criticisms, saying among other things that it plans to name a new chairman to succeed McClendon.

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