Dec. 15, 2016
The chief executive of U.S. seed giant Monsanto Co. remains confident in the company's planned sale to German pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer AG, which he said would help boost U.S. investment in agricultural technology.
The deal, which would rank as the largest-ever takeover of a U.S. company by a German one, is moving toward regulatory reviews in the U.S. even as the November election of Donald Trump as president has raised questions around large-scale merger deals and foreign investment in U.S. companies. During the campaign, Mr. Trump criticized some major merger deals as concentrating too much market power under one company.
"My view hasn't changed since November, I'm still confident," said Hugh Grant, Monsanto's CEO and chairman, in an interview Tuesday after Monsanto shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favor of the $57 billion sale to Bayer. "This is another building block that makes the Midwest a biotech hub for the planet."
Mr. Grant said he hasn't engaged with the Trump transition team on the Bayer deal. Monsanto officials, he said, have been spending their time talking to farm groups, some of whom worry that a cascade of mergers uniting some of the world's largest suppliers of critical farm supplies -- seeds and pesticides -- could translate to higher prices and a narrower range of products to choose from.
Combining Monsanto's prowess in engineering seeds with Bayer's much broader pesticide portfolio will "intensify" the companies' research and development operations, Mr. Grant said, benefiting farmers and adding jobs. "The resources will increase over time. This isn't about skinnying down," he said.
Mr. Grant said Tuesday's vote represented a "milestone" in a deal-approval process that is expected to include dozens of regulatory bodies around the world. Bayer has filed the merger plans with U.S. antitrust enforcers and expects to file for approval in the European Union in early 2017, he said. No shareholder vote is required for Bayer, which expects to close the deal by the end of 2017.
Other agricultural companies pursuing their own mergers have engaged with Mr. Trump. Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical Co., joined Mr. Trump at a Michigan event Friday, where he announced a planned Dow R&D center. Mr. Trump also asked Mr. Liveris to head a manufacturing council. Dow and DuPont Co. in late 2015 struck a merger deal that will combine the chemical conglomerates' businesses before splitting the new entity into three separate firms, including one focused on crop seeds and pesticides.
Monsanto said that about 99% of shares voted at a special meeting Nov. 7 were cast in favor of the sale to Bayer. About 75% of all Monsanto shares were voted, the company said.
Shareholders were widely expected to back the deal, despite some long-term investors grumbling that the $128-a-share sale price agreed to in September was too low.