Activist investor Elliott's latest target? A 2-way split at struggling Bayer: report

Think shaving off animal health and a few consumer brands would satisfy Bayer’s investors? Think again. Armed with a stake in the German conglomerate, activist investor Elliott Management is reportedly pushing for a two-way split.

The high-powered firm, helmed by billionaire Paul Singer, has held shares in Bayer for more than a year, Reuters first reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Elliott now wants the company to divorce its crop science and pharmaceutical businesses—a move at least one analyst has also advocated—but hasn't yet met with Bayer management to make its case, Bloomberg reports, based on its own anonymous sources.

It’s not yet clear how large a stake the investment firm has accumulated, but it's apparently below the 3% threshold that would trigger disclosure under German law. Bloomberg's sources also said Elliott might not play hardball for a breakup and could instead reduce its stake.

Still, Elliott is not the only one proposing the idea. Back in October, Bernstein analyst Wimal Kapadia posited that the best strategy for Bayer would be separating the crop and pharma business.

"[O]ur sense speaking to investors who have met management recently suggests this is not off the table," the analyst wrote in a note to investors.

The Elliott news surfaced right after Bayer significantly cut its estimates of peak sales for its five most promising drugs from €6 billion to €3.75 billion at an investor meetup in London Wednesday, despite a €750 million contribution from the FDA's landmark approval of Loxo Oncology-partnered “tissue agnostic” cancer drug Vitrakvi.

To make it worse, the company’s cash cow, clot-busting drug Xarelto, recently flopped a major study where it failed to beat placebo at cutting blood clots and related death in acutely ill patients. According to Bernstein analysts in a Friday note to investors, recent trial failures have offset the drug’s new FDA approval to treat coronary or peripheral arterial disease, leading to no increase to its sales forecasts.

That again underscores the need for an external source to beef up Bayer’s pipeline.

RELATED: 'Tissue agnostic' cancer drug from Bayer, Loxo comes with high price, money-back guarantee

Late last month, Bayer unveiled a plan to cast off its animal health unit and top consumer health brands Coppertone and Dr. Scholl’s, restructure its internal pharma R&D and cut more than 10% of its global workforce. Some of the cash collected from cost savings and asset sales will be channeled to “investment in collaborative research models and external innovations;" in other words, partnerships and licensing deals to bring in pipeline assets. Such deals are, in the company’s own words, “an essential step.”

Bernstein analysts at the time applauded Bayer’s decision to exit animal health; after all, they had been rooting for it as a more likely alternative to a crop-pharma split. The consumer brands' selloff and restructuring will also “help move margins to 24% in 2022 (+4%) for a €1.4B division,” the Bernstein team wrote in its Friday note.

RELATED: Bayer to cut loose animal health, consumer brands and 12,000 jobs in huge shakeup

However, the agrichemical business can be a tricky piece of the puzzle. Though 2019 revenue seems solid, “we are slightly more reticent on mid-term growth,” said the analysts.

The gigantic $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto, originally pegged as a strategic move to enhance Bayer’s position, hasn’t created much investor confidence. Back in August, a jury agreed that the company should pay $289 million in damages in the first of thousands of lawsuits alleging that its Roundup weedkillers cause cancer. Though a California judge slashed the amount to $78.6 million, Bayer’s shares have not turned for the better; since August, the stock has dropped about a third.

In its third-quarter report, Bayer disclosed that the Roundup lawsuits increased to 9,300 as of Oct. 30, but still put up a bold face, saying it will “defend ourselves vigorously in all of these lawsuits.”