Bayer goes through 'ups and downs' as Monsanto deal drags on

LEVERKUSEN, Germany (Reuters) - Bayer BAYGn.DE on Wednesday said it would need more time to wrap up its takeover of seeds company Monsanto MON.N after the drugmaker reported lower than expected fourth-quarter earnings which were hit by pesticide pricing pressures in Brazil.

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The Monsanto deal will now close before the end of June, Bayer said, compared with previous ambitions to finish it early in 2018, but negotiations with antitrust authorities in jurisdictions such as Europe, Russia and the United States are dragging on.

“Operationally, 2017 was a year of ups and downs,” Chief Executive Werner Baumann said after the company reported a 1.3 percent fall in fourth-quarter adjusted core earnings, slightly worse than expected by analysts, and flagged stagnant earnings this year.

Bayer’s shares dropped 3.4 percent, hitting their lowest in almost 15 months.

“We see this full-year set of numbers as disappointing and guidance for 2018 uninspiring,” said Bryan Garnier analyst Eric Le Berrigaud.

The $63.5 billion Monsanto deal will boost Bayer’s agriculture sales to the same level as its core healthcare business, but the acquisition has not been universally popular among shareholders, many of which are critical of Bayer’s drug pipeline as being too weak.

Bayer has already pledged to sell certain seed and herbicide assets for 5.9 billion euros ($7 billion) to BASF BASFn.DE to help to gain approval for the Monsanto deal. Bayer said on Wednesday additional concessions to antitrust regulators would include the sale of its vegetable seeds business, confirming a Reuters report.

Bayer’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came in at 1.78 billion euros ($2.18 billion) for the quarter, slightly lower than the average forecast by analysts of 1.8 billion euros.

Weak overseas currencies weighed on the euro-value of products sold in foreign markets, leading to a currency-related hit of about 100 million euros during the quarter.

Bayer warned last year that poor sales in Brazil had inflated inventory levels at distributors, forcing it to grant discounts and to buy back stocks, also in the fourth quarter.

“We are now seeing that the measures are taking effect,” Baumann said. As a result, EBITDA before special items at the Crop Science division would likely see a medium to high single-digit percentage gain in 2018, not yet taking Monsanto into account.

For the group, the earnings gauge was set to be roughly flat this year, held back by a 300 million euro negative impact from a rebuke by the U.S. healthcare watchdog over how it handled production of some drugs at its Leverkusen, Germany headquarters.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Jane Merriman