Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed company, said it’s been in talks over the last several weeks with Bayer AG and others on possible alternatives to the German company’s initial $53.7 billion takeover bid. Monsanto Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant has been in discussions about "alternative strategic options,” he said Wednesday as the St. Louis-based company reported worse-than-expected fiscal third-quarter earnings and sales. Profit excluding one-time items was $2.17 a share, lower than the $2.42 average of 17 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The disappointing earnings undercut the company’s argument that Bayer’s proposed bid is less than adequate. Monsanto has been facing aggressive cutting of seed prices by competitors and falling prices for the herbicide glyphosate amid overproduction by Chinese generic producers.
“We remain open and will continue to actively engage in constructive dialogue to pursue value enhancing strategic options,” Grant said in the earnings statement. “Our industry is running at a low point in the overall agriculture cycle and we’ve experienced an unforeseen level of challenges affecting our business in fiscal year 2016.”
Monsanto was 0.2 percent lower at $100.88 at 10:11 a.m. in New York after earlier climbing as high as $104.21. The company declined to comment on which companies it has been talking to apart from Bayer. Bayer made an offer in May to acquire Monsanto for $122 in cash, which the U.S. company rejected as too low. Discussions between Bayer and Monsanto are at an impasse at the moment, with the German company seeking to do due diligence on Monsanto’s books, while Monsanto is holding out for a higher bid first, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month. In April, Grant said the company no longer saw "large-scale" mergers and acquisitions as a strategy, signaling the end of any lingering ambition to bid for another major crop-chemicals or seeds business. Net income was $717 million, or $1.63 a share, in the three months ended May 31, compared with $1.14 billion, or $2.39, a year earlier, Monsanto said. Sales fell to $4.19 billion from $4.58 billion, trailing the $4.49 billion average estimate. The company cited negative impacts from pricing declines from glyphosate, the generic version of its weedkiller brand, Roundup lower soybean sales and regulatory hurdles in India.
Monsanto said it expects to be at the low end of its full-year earnings guidance of $4.40 to $5.10 amid “several global and industry headwinds.” For 2017, the company sees a return to growth, assuming stable currencies, driven by adoption of its new soybean technologies and improving prices for corn and soybeans. That will be partially offset by more declines in weedkiller prices. “The outlook now is firmly on 2017 after cutting guidance to the low end of the range, so I would think the poor result this quarter steps up pressure for them to seriously engage with Bayer, all while setting themselves up to hopefully get up on the right track for 2017,” Chris Perrella, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone. Bayer’s proposed bid adds to the wave of consolidation in the agricultural chemicals sector. Aside from Bayer’s bid for Monsanto, China National Chemical Corp. said in February that it reached a deal to buy Syngenta AG, and Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. announced in December they would merge before breaking into three separate entities.