A stenciled Bayer AG logo sits on a crate of rapeseeds at the Bayer CropScience processing facility in Monheim, Germany (Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg)

Bayer to Cut 12,000 Jobs, Exit Vet Unit Amid Drag From Suits

(Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG plans to cut 12,000 jobs and exit its animal health business in an effort to mollify Wall Street, which has punished the company over the tidal wave of lawsuits that came alongside the $63 billion takeover of Monsanto Co.

The German company announced a rash of moves, including exiting the sun-care and foot-care segments, that it said would boost its core pharma and agricultural businesses. The cuts, including a significant number in Germany -- where layoffs are politically sensitive -- represent about 10 percent of the workforce. The shares fell 2.3 percent as of 5 p.m. in Frankfurt trading, erasing initial gains after the announcement.

Bayer is under mounting pressure to prove that its new model makes sense. The Monsanto deal turned it into the world’s largest agricultural chemicals and seeds maker, with giant pharmaceutical and consumer health units under the same roof.

Investors remain unconvinced. The shares slumped after the acquisition was announced and closed, and Bayer’s market value has plunged some 30 billion euros ($34.1 billion) since August, when a California jury ruled against its signature weedkiller Roundup, saying it may have caused a school groundskeeper’s cancer. At least 9,000 other lawsuits are pending.

“Today’s decisions were not made necessary by the recent acquisition, and certainly not by glyphosate litigation in the U.S.,” Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said on a call with reporters, referring to Roundup’s chemical compound. “Absolutely nothing to do with it.”

Some investors may be disappointed with the short-term cost of the restructuring, the first strategic shakeup since the Monsanto deal was completed. Bayer’s fiscal 2019 earnings targets are below the forecast of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Nonetheless, “they delivered what everyone was hoping for,” said Ulrich Huwald, a Hamburg-based analyst with Warburg Research GmbH. “It’s a good package on the face of it.”

Of the 12,000 job cuts, half will probably come from corporate and supporting functions while another third will be in crop science as the Monsanto integration proceeds, Bayer said. Another 1,250 positions will probably come from pharmaceuticals -- with 350 related to a new facility in Wuppertal, Germany. Another 1,100 will be cut in Bayer’s consumer health division. Baumann repeatedly declined to say how many of the reductions would be in Germany overall.

“A leaner organization will help us become more responsive to changing markets and increase our agility,” he said.

Bayer’s animal health operations are probably worth as much as 6.5 billion euros, according to Wimal Kapadia, a London-based analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. That unit sells vet products for both pets and livestock, and its best-selling product line is the Advantage flea treatment for small animals.

After the stock fell about 40 percent over the past year, Bayer has faced growing questions about how its disparate units will remain competitive. Restructuring and cost cuts were widely expected ahead of an investor’s day meeting in London on Wednesday. By exiting peripheral businesses like animal health, Bayer aims to plow resources into core units like pharmaceuticals, where it needs to catch up to competitors.

The pharma unit will lose patent protection for its top two blockbuster drugs in the next half decade, and there’s little in the way of new medicines to compensate. The consumer-health unit it beefed up four years ago with brands like Claritin has been limping along and is facing its third year of declining sales.

Bayer to Cut 12,000 Jobs, Exit Vet Unit Amid Drag From Suits

The company announced non-cash impairments and write-offs totaling 3.3 billion euros in the consumer health and pharmaceuticals division for the fourth quarter. It’s also looking to more than double -- to 2.6 billion euros a year by 2022 -- the expected synergies it has predicted from the takeover of Monsanto.

Bayer will invest more in research partnerships with outside groups, Baumann said. But the company will also seek partners with experimental medicines that are already close to the market, he said. Bayer’s $1.55 billion licensing deal last year with Loxo Oncology Inc., which gave it its most promising new cancer medicine, shows how costly such late-stage drug partnerships can be.

Baumann said the company is most interested in its core areas of hemophilia and hematology, cardiology, women’s health and cancer. “We have, certainly, the financial strength,” he said.

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