November 26, 2018 / 3:27 PM / 19 days ago

Bayer looks at options for consumer brands, animal health: sources

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Bayer (BAYGn.DE) will discuss selling certain consumer health brands at a supervisory board meeting this week and will also review options for its animal health division, people close to the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Bayer AG, February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender/File Photo

The company will look at its longer term strategy at the meeting as part of efforts to bolster its finances after a $63 billion takeover of seeds group Monsanto, the people said.

“Bayer is planning to divest consumer health brands in certain countries where it deems its business to be too small to thrive in the long term,” one of the sources said.

Bayer declined to comment.

Standard & Poor’s cut Bayer’s credit rating to triple-B in the wake of the Monsanto deal and Bayer has said it would reduce debt to return to a single A rating over the long term.

The animal health business, the largest maker of flea and tick control products for cats and dogs, needs to grow to compete with larger rivals but Bayer lacks the financial firepower to sponsor big moves, one of the sources said.

While the future of this business will be discussed at the meeting, a formal decision may be taken later, the person said.

Chief Executive Werner Baumann is scheduled to brief investors on measures to enhance group performance in London on Dec. 5. He also plans to provide a strategic update, issue 2022 targets and give details on the enlarged crop science business after the Monsanto takeover.

UNDER PRESSURE

Baumann is under pressure to boost Bayer’s share price after a 38 percent fall so far this year, partly in response to the risks relating to the more than 9,000 lawsuits it faces over an alleged cancer causing effect of Monsanto weed killer Roundup.

Bayer says its glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer.

The company has not yet hired any investment banks to explore options for the animal health business, the people said, while Bayer’s in-house M&A specialists are looking into the sale of the consumer health assets, one of them said.

Bayer’s consumer healthcare business, bolstered by the 2014 acquisition of a Merck & Co (MRK.N) division for $14 billion, has faced falling revenues as U.S. consumers switched from established drugstores to online shops.

In the first nine months of 2018, Bayer consumer health products’ sales declined by 0.4 percent when excluding currency swings, following a drop of 1.7 percent in the full year of 2017.

Revenues at Bayer’s Coppertone suncreens and Claritin allergy relief brand - both acquired from Merck - slipped by a currency-adjusted 6.1 percent and 3.7 percent over the period, respectively. Sales of yeast infection treatment Canesten fell 8.4 percent over the first nine months.

Bayer’s animal health business had sales of 1.57 billion euros in 2017, up 3.2 percent from a year earlier, accounting for about 4.5 percent of group revenues.

Its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) before special items rose 9.2 percent to 381 million euros in 2017 but were down 6.3 percent in the first nine months of 2018.

Analysts at Jefferies and Bernstein have said the animal health business could fetch 6-7 billion euros ($7.94 billion).

There has already been consolidation in animal health, with Pfizer (PFE.N) and Eli Lilly (LLY.N), successfully floating their veterinary medicine units on the stock market as independent entities.

Bayer ranks fifth in veterinary medicine, surpassed in size by Zoetis (ZTS.N), which used to be part of Pfizer, former Eli Lilly unit Elanco (ELAN.N), unlisted Boehringer Ingelheim, which acquired animal health assets from Sanofi (SASY.PA), and drugmaker Merck & Co (MRK.N).

As part of its attempts to cut debt, Bayer has already started a sales process for its 60 percent stake in chemical park operator Currenta and has attracted interest from private equity funds with a long-term investment horizon, people close to that situation said.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Arno Schuetze; Editing by Michelle Martin and Jane Merriman

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