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‘The Jump Is Worrying’: Bayer Reports Even More Roundup-Related Cancer Lawsuits

Bayer AG unveiled more troubles at its crop science division after lawsuits related to its Roundup weedkiller ballooned and bad weather as well as trade disputes curbed demand, throwing the company’s full-year forecast into doubt.

The number of lawsuits from people in the U.S. claiming Roundup caused their cancer rose by about 5,000 to 18,400, according to a statement on Tuesday. Quarterly sales and earnings missed estimates as the German company questioned its ability to hit its targets. The shares fell as much as 4.4% in Frankfurt, extending this year’s drop to 5.6%.

Chief Executive Officer Werner 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.”

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 are hurting U.S. farmers’ ability to export soybeans, curbing demand for Bayer’s products. In Europe, pesticide sales struggled too, due to dry weather. Sales for the crop science unit fell 3.1% after adjusting for currency and portfolio effects associated with the Monsanto takeover, Bayer said.

Bayer reiterated its annual financial forecast and its plan to defend itself in the Roundup litigation, while saying it will “constructively engage” in the mediation process ordered by a California judge. The company has aimed for about 46 billion euros ($51 billion) in revenue and profit of about 6.80 euros a share for this year.

Bayer’s other challenges include selling off its animal health division, rekindling growth at its ailing consumer-health division and coming up with promising new medicines for its pharma unit, where top-selling treatments Xarelto and Eylea both face losing patent protection next decade.

Bayer’s shares had plunged about 40% in the past 12 months amid concern over legal claims that Roundup and its main ingredient glyphosate can cause cancer. Activist shareholder Elliott Management Corp., which unveiled a $1.3 billion stake in last month, has said the company could unlock 30 billion euros in shareholder value with a settlement.

Still, some analysts say the company is right to spread its focus between different businesses to help manage the ebbs and flows of each unit.

“If Bayer just had the pharma business, the stock would be super risky, because the pharma business has some medium to long-term concerns,” said Dennis Berzhanin of Pareto Securities. “Yes, they’re having short-term problems right now with crop science, but it reduces the risk of the company in general and supports their growth going forward.”

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