BERLIN — German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer on Monday reported surging first-quarter profits, as its consumer health arm saw a “substantial increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Net profits across the whole group added 20 percent year-on-year to reach 1.5 billion euros, Bayer said in a statement, on adjusted revenues up six percent at 12.8 billion.

The consumer health division with household-name products like Aspirin saw a 13.5-percent increase in sales, far outstripping growth at the pharmaceuticals and agriculture units.

But despite the higher demand, “restrictions related to the pandemic are adversely impacting parts of the company’s business,” Bayer said.

The group “has implemented extensive measures at its sites in a bid to halt or at least slow the spread” of the virus.

“It will not be possible to reliably assess the positive and negative effects” of the coronavirus on Bayer’s business activity “until later in the year,” the group said, shying away from any update to 2020 financial forecasts.

Legal entanglements from Bayer’s 2018 takeover of US seeds and pesticides maker Monsanto grew in the first quarter.

Some 52,500 cases from plaintiffs alleging their cancers had been caused by flagship Monsanto weedkiller Roundup were filed by April 14, up from 48,000 in February.

“The number does not reflect the merits of the alleged claims,” said Bayer.

The group has held fast to reams of scientific studies and regulatory approvals it says prove Roundup’s main ingredient glyphosate is safe, despite massive first-instance awards to US plaintiffs last year.

“Bayer continues to engage constructively in the mediation process” led by star US lawyer Ken Feinberg, the group said, although the pandemic has “significantly slowed” the talks.

Analysts have estimated that any out-of-court payout to dispel the lawsuits could climb into the double-digit billions.


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