Bayer posts 10.5b euro loss in 2020 on weed-killer legal woes

by AFP

BERLIN – German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer posted Thursday a steep 2020 loss, dragged down by a US settlement of claims its weedkiller causes cancer even as the coronavirus pandemic boosted sales of health products.

The group said in a statement that it booked a net loss of 10.5 billion euros ($12.8 billion) for last year, compared with a net profit of just over four billion in 2019.

Annual sales came in roughly unchanged at 41.4 billion euros when adjusted for currency effects, it added.

Bayer was expected to end the year in the red after it agreed in June to set aside some $11 billion to settle a wave of US lawsuits against its Roundup weedkiller.

The coronavirus crisis also left its mark on the group, with pharmaceutical sales falling as the pandemic led to a postponement of non-urgent treatments, Bayer said.

The negative impact was mitigated however by surging demand for Bayer’s blockbuster blood thinner Xarelto.

Anti-coagulants have emerged as a key Covid-19 treatment option.

Elsewhere, Bayer’s over-the-counter consumer health division saw revenues jump by more than five percent.

“The greater focus on health and prevention in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic generated substantial growth in demand” across all regions, Bayer said, especially for nutritional and digestive health products.

At the same time, the Leverkusen-based group noticed lower demand for its cough and cold medicines, which it attributed to improved hygiene measures as a result of the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Bayer said it expected “solid operational growth” in 2021 and stable revenues.

Bayer also gave an update on its legal woes linked to Roundup, saying it had now settled some 90,000 US lawsuits.

The group earlier this month revised part of the settlement package covering future Roundup litigation after a Californian judge blocked the initial proposal. 

The company is still awaiting court approval of the improved $2.0 billion offer. 

The legal woes have weighed on Bayer ever since it bought the US firm and Roundup maker Monsanto in 2018.

Bayer, which is not admitting any wrongdoing as part of the settlement package, maintains that scientific studies and regulatory approvals show Roundup’s main ingredient glyphosate is safe.

But other research claims that glyphosate can cause cancer.