Bayer Seeks to Reassure Investors on Roundup Settlement Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann sought to reassure German investors about the prospects of settling litigation over the company’s Roundup weedkiller, an effort to regain their confidence after an unprecedented rebuke at the company’s shareholder meeting in April.

The embattled CEO held a series of meetings in Frankfurt this week with key shareholders, according to people familiar with the situation. The outreach comes as the company battles thousands of lawsuits from people who say the weedkiller caused their cancer. Bloomberg Intelligence analysts have said the cases could result in a settlement of as much as $10 billion.

Baumann told investors that Ken Feinberg, the high-profile mediator appointed to lead settlement talks for some of the cases, met with both parties and wouldn’t have agreed to take the job if he didn’t think he could broker a deal, according to one of the people, who asked not to be named because the investor discussions were private.

A Bayer representative declined to comment.

Bayer is trying to win over shareholders concerned that it mishandled the fallout over Roundup after acquiring the herbicide last year in the $63 billion purchase of Monsanto Co. The German company rejects claims that the weedkiller causes cancer and has vowed to keep fighting after losing three trials since the Monsanto deal closed last summer.

The meetings came at an auspicious time. A federal judge said he’ll probably reduce -- but not throw out entirely -- an $80 million jury verdict against Bayer in the second case to go to trial over claims that Roundup causes cancer.

Damage Award

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at a hearing Tuesday in San Francisco that part of the damages awarded to a California man for his pain and suffering may have been miscalculated and that the $75 million portion of the verdict intended to punish the company may be too high.

Bayer is working to rehabilitate its image as it battles mounting suspicion over the safety of Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate. Austria’s parliament earlier this week voted to ban herbicides containing glyphosate, a first in the European Union.

Questioned by a shareholder about the Austrian decision, Baumann largely dismissed it, saying that farmers will have a difficult time getting by without glyphosate, one of the people said.

The meetings follow a vote against Baumann by shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in April, where a majority of investors opposed absolving the CEO and other managers of responsibility for their actions in the Monsanto takeover.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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