Rocky start for Bayer at Annual Shareholders’ Meeting

With over 65 requests to speak at Bayer’s Annual Shareholders’ Meeting, the German agrochemical giant faced some tough questions from stockholders on Friday.

“We made great progress, both operationally and strategically,” said Werner Baumann, chief executive officer (CEO) of Bayer, during his welcome speech.

Bayer had achieved its targets in operational terms in 2018 and a dividend of 2.80 euros (3.12 U.S. dollars) per share would be paid to stockholders, “a new record payout” due to the higher number of Bayer shares.

Following the completion of the Monsanto acquisition in June 2018, Bayer stock had lost around 40 percent of its value, which was “disappointing and very painful,” said Baumann.

Many of Bayer’s investors questioned whether the company’s board had underestimated the legal risks involved in the Monsanto acquisition.

Numerous investors announced their intentions to vote against the discharge of Bayer’s executive board and supervisory board at the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting.

“Bayer’s management must face the accusation that it neither recognized nor adequately considered the enormous legal risks associated with the Monsanto acquisition,” said Janne Werning from the German fund company Union Investment.

Union Investment had earlier posted on Twitter that it “refuses to approve the actions” of Bayer management due to “continuing negative developments, high legal risks and massive price losses.”

Deka, the investment company of German savings banks, would also vote against the discharge of Bayer’s executive board because “so far, the acquisition of Monsanto has only destroyed value,” said representative Ingo Speich.

Marc Tuengler, managing director of the German association for the protection of shareholdings (DSW), spoke of a “painful year and sleepless nights for the stockholders.”

The DSW suggested postponing a vote on the discharge of Bayer’s executive board until next year when shareholders could have “more clarity” in assessing the Monsanto takeover.

The largest Bayer shareholder, the U.S. asset manager Blackrock, announced to either abstain or vote against the discharge of the executive board.

Although Bayer’s management would not face any direct consequences if it did not get a majority vote for the discharge of the executive board, this would be a clear signal of distrust on the part of Bayer’s stockholders.

Chairman of Bayer’s supervisory board, Werner Wenning, gave the executive board his full backing, quoting two legal opinions commissioned by the supervisory board which attested that the executive board had “fulfilled its duties when examining the purchase of Monsanto.”

On Wednesday, Bayer announced that 13,400 plaintiffs had filed lawsuits against Bayer for alleged carcinogenic effect of Monsanto’s weed-killer glyphosate.

Before the start of Bayer’s AGM in Bonn on Friday, several hundred protesters gathered in front of the venue at the World Conference Center Bonn (WCCB), many of them protesting the controversial weed-killer glyphosate.

In front of the doors of the convention center where Bayer’s shareholder meeting was being held, people were protesting Bayer’s industrial agricultural model.

“We are here to take our protest directly to the shareholders’ meeting,” said activist Felix Pohl from the “Fridays for Future” movement.

Following the takeover of Monsanto, Bayer had “significantly worsened its sustainability position,” criticized spokeswoman Lena Michelsen from the development organization INKOTA-network.

“Climate protection has been a priority at Bayer for decades,” a Bayer spokesperson told Xinhua on Friday.

The spokesperson emphasized that although Bayer’s emissions rose “significantly” following the Monsanto acquisition, Bayer was “currently revising” its climate program.

“We want to continue making positive contributions to climate protection and to dealing with the consequences of climate change at various levels in future,” concluded the Bayer spokesperson.

The protests on Friday were attended by members of German aid organization Misereor, Germany’s left party (Die Linke), the action alliance Attac, the working group for rural agriculture (AbL) as well as young people from the “Fridays for Future” campaign in Cologne, Leverkusen and Bonn.