Bayer reaps profit lift from Monsanto

Leverkusen, Germany | Reuters –– Bayer’s US$63 billion purchase of seed and chemical firm Monsanto made its mark on the German company’s fourth quarter earnings on Wednesday, lifting profit and boding well for the peak season of its enlarged agriculture business.

However, mounting litigation risks related to Monsanto still cast a pall over an adjusted core earnings rise of 15.8 per cent, which was inflated by the addition of the U.S. group and helped by cost cuts at Bayer’s consumer healthcare business.

The pharmaceuticals and farming pesticides firm said adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was 2.07 billion euros (C$3.1 billion), beating a two billion-euro average analyst forecast.

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Analysts said this showed early signs of recovery after years of weakness in demand and was also partly due to transitional service payments from BASF, which had acquired some of Bayer’s agriculture business under a deal that helped it get antitrust approval for the Monsanto acquisition.

“A starting recovery at Bayer’s agrochemicals and seeds (after five years of a downturn) could be… a significant share price trigger,” Baader Helvea analyst Markus Mayer said.

The positive result from Bayer appeared to conflict with rival Syngenta which has called agricultural market conditions challenging.

However at Bayer, previously announced write-downs on the value of consumer health brands and one-off charges from the closure of a German haemophilia drug plant led to an overall quarterly net loss of 3.9 billion euros.

Adjusted EBITDA at its non-prescription consumer products unit, which plans to shed the Coppertone sunscreen and Dr. Scholl’s footcare brands, rose 11 per cent to 279 million euros in the quarter, on 4.9 per cent lower sales, as it cut costs.

Meanwhile, litigation risks are piling up with the number of plaintiffs claiming damages over the alleged role of Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup in causing cancer jumping to 11,200 from 9,300, Bayer’s results statement showed.

“The sword of Damocles continues to hang over Bayer,” Bryan Garnier analyst Jean-Jacques Le Fur said.

Bayer, which says scientists and regulators across the globe have found Roundup to be safe, faces a second U.S. jury, following an initial verdict in California state court that was reduced to US$78 million in damages.

Bayer, which wrapped up the Monsanto purchase in June, has not yet been able to show its pulling power as about 80 per cent of its earnings are generated during the January-to-June period.

Adjusted EBITDA of the enlarged agriculture division jumped 79 per cent to a better-than-expected 543 million euros.

— Reporting for Reuters by Ludwig Burger; additional reporting by Patricia Weiss.

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