Bayer CEO: Roundup settlement could be in the cards

Company struggles with mounting legal claims from many thousands of Americans who say the herbicide caused their cancer.

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    Bayer is facing multiple challenges: reviving pharmaceutical sales, jump-starting consumer health products, and managing fallout at the agricultural unit [Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]
    Bayer is facing multiple challenges: reviving pharmaceutical sales, jump-starting consumer health products, and managing fallout at the agricultural unit [Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters]

    Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said he'd consider a "financially reasonable" settlement of litigation over the weedkiller Roundup as the caseload swells and the company's shares slump anew.

    The number of lawsuits from people in the U.S. who say the herbicide caused them to develop cancer rose by about 5,000 to 18,400, Bayer said in a statement. The company also revealed more troubles at its crop-science division on Tuesday after bad weather curbed demand from farmers.

    Quarterly sales and earnings missed estimates and the German company questioned its ability to meet its full-year forecast. The shares fell as much as 4.7% in Frankfurt trading.

    Baumann has staked his credibility on last year's $63 billion takeover of Monsanto Co., claiming the company is better off balancing its portfolio between agriculture and health care. But the surge in U.S. lawsuits alleging that Roundup - which Bayer inherited from Monsanto - causes cancer suggest settling the claims will become more expensive than previously thought, heaping more pressure on Baumann three months after he received an unprecedented rebuke from shareholders.

    "The jump in lawsuits is worrying," said Mustaq Rahaman, a credit analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. "This set of results will do little to stem calls for more dramatic action including a split."

    Baumann said on a conference call that he is open to a settlement as long as it resolves all Roundup litigation. He repeated that the herbicide is safe and the cases have no merit.

    Bayer's legal woes at the agricultural unit are being compounded by bad weather. In North America, heavy flooding has delayed planting season for farmers, while trade tensions with China hurt U.S. farmers' ability to export soybeans, curbing demand for Bayer's products. Just as Bayer reported earnings, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at China for what he said is an unwillingness to buy American agricultural products.

    Bayer's pesticide sales struggled in Europe too, due to unusually dry weather. Revenue at the crop science unit fell 3.1% after adjusting for currency and portfolio effects associated with the Monsanto takeover, Bayer said.

    New Medicines

    The Leverkusen, Germany-based company reiterated its annual financial forecast and its plan to defend itself in the Roundup litigation, while saying it will "constructively engage" in the mediation process ordered by a California judge. The company has aimed for about 46 billion euros ($51 billion) in revenue and profit of about 6.80 euros a share for this year.

    Bayer's other challenges include selling off its animal health division, rekindling growth at its ailing consumer-health division and coming up with promising new medicines for its pharma unit, where top-selling treatments Xarelto and Eylea both face losing patent protection next decade.

    Bayer's shares have plunged about 40% in the past 12 months amid concern over legal claims that Roundup and its main ingredient glyphosate can cause cancer. Activist shareholder Elliott Management Corp., which unveiled a $1.3 billion stake in last month, has said the company could unlock 30 billion euros in shareholder value with a settlement.

    Still, some analysts say the company is right to spread its focus between different businesses to help manage the ebbs and flows of each unit.

    "If Bayer just had the pharma business, the stock would be super risky, because the pharma business has some medium to long-term concerns," said Dennis Berzhanin of Pareto Securities. "Yes, they're having short-term problems right now with crop science, but it reduces the risk of the company in general and supports their growth going forward."

    SOURCE: Bloomberg