Bayer AG (BAYRY) shares traded near the top of the European market Thursday after activist investor Elliot Advisors revealed a $1.1 billion stake in the chemicals group and supported plans to boost its legal team in the face of thousands of Roundup weedkiller lawsuits.
Elliot revealed its stake late Wednesday after Bayer said it hired outside counsel to advise its supervisory board amid myriad lawsuits linked to its glyphosate-based weedkiller, known as Roundup, which is assumed following its $63 billion takeover of Monsanto last year. Bayer said it hired Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom LLP's John Beisner to provide "fresh and independent perspectives" to the board as the company faces more than 13,000 separate lawsuits and billions in potential fines and settlements.
"While resolving the litigation challenge is clearly an immediate priority, Elliott believes Bayer could do more to maximise long-term value for all its stakeholders," the investor said in a statement late Wednesday. "Elliott believes that Bayer's discounted share price today does not reflect the significant underlying value of its constituent businesses, or the potential value realisation opportunity that is in excess of €30 billion."
"Elliott looks forward to the Company building upon today's announcement, and making a credible commitment to the exploration of long-term value creative levers beyond the immediate litigation and governance enhancements, to the benefit of all stakeholders," the statement added.
Bayer shares were marked 7.5% higher in early European trading Thursday, the biggest single-session gain in at least two years, and changing hands at €60.17 each in Frankfurt.
Analysts have estimated Bayer's glyphosate-based products liability at anywhere between €4 billion and €15 billion, and the company has said some 13,400 lawsuits remain outstanding.
Last month, a jury in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California awarded Alva and Alberta Pilliod $2 billion in punitive damages and $55 million in compensatory relief after the pair said Monsanto's Roundup weed killer caused them to contract cancer.
That verdict followed a 2018 decision from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos, who ruled that said Bayer should pay $39 million in punitive damages and a further $49 billion in compensatory damages to Dewayne Johnson, a school district groundskeeper who argued that Roundup and Ranger Pro weedkillers, as well as its other glyphosate-based products, did not carry sufficient warnings for the risks of cancer that they carried.
A California jury had originally awarded Johnson $289 million in total damages following a controversial verdict reached in the summer of 2018.