Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said he'd consider a "financially reasonable" settlement of litigation over the weedkiller Roundup as the caseload swells and the company's shares slump anew.
The number of lawsuits from people in the U.S. who say the herbicide caused them to develop cancer rose by about 5,000 to 18,400, Bayer said in a statement. The company also revealed more troubles at its crop-science division on Tuesday after bad weather curbed demand from farmers.
Quarterly sales and earnings missed estimates and the German company questioned its ability to meet its full-year forecast. The shares fell 3.4 percent in Frankfurt.
Baumann has staked his credibility on last year's $63 billion takeover of Monsanto Co., claiming the company is better off balancing its portfolio between agriculture and health care. But the surge in U.S. lawsuits alleging that Roundup -- which Bayer inherited from Monsanto -- causes cancer suggest settling the claims will become more expensive than previously thought, heaping more pressure on Baumann three months after he received an unprecedented rebuke from shareholders.
"The jump in lawsuits is worrying," said Mustaq Rahaman, a credit analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. "This set of results will do little to stem calls for more dramatic action including a split."
Baumann said on a conference call that he is open to a settlement as long as it resolves all Roundup litigation. He repeated that the herbicide is safe, that the cases have no merit and that the company is "constructively engaging" with court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg.
After the call, Bayer declined to say how much a "financially reasonable" sum would be or whether Baumann was referring only to the current load of cancer cases or the possibility of future Roundup suits tied to other ailments.
Bayer's definition of what a reasonable settlement amount would be for all the Roundup cases isn't likely to match up with estimates from lawyers for users of the weed-killer, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond's law school who teaches about mass-tort litigation. "They aren't going to like the numbers the plaintiffs are going to demand," Tobias said. "Maybe Ken Feinberg can work something out."
Bayer's legal woes at the agricultural unit are being compounded by bad weather. In North America, heavy flooding has delayed planting season for farmers, while trade tensions with China hurt U.S. farmers' ability to export soybeans, curbing demand for Bayer's products. Just as Bayer reported earnings, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at China for what he said is an unwillingness to buy American agricultural products.
Bayer's pesticide sales struggled in Europe too, due to unusually dry weather. Revenue at the crop science unit fell 3.1% after adjusting for currency and portfolio effects associated with the Monsanto takeover, Bayer said.