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German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer said Wednesday that its profits soared in 2017, and expressed confidence that its planned mega-merger with US seeds and pesticides maker Monsanto will go ahead this year.
Net profit at the Leverkusen-based maker of Aspirin jumped 62 percent to 7.3 billion euros ($8.9 billion) last year.
Operating, or underlying profit grew 2.9 percent to 5.9 billion euros on the back of almost flat revenues at 35 billion euros.
‘2017 was a year of ups and downs on the operative level,’ chief executive Werner Baumann said, pointing to unfavourable currency effects of some 195 million euros, mainly from the weaker Brazilian real and British pound.
Unplanned costs, including some related to the Monsanto merger, also burdened the operating result.
On the plus side, Bayer sold off more of its stake in its former materials science division, now a listed company called Covestro, for a total of 4.7 billion euros in 2017.
‘We have made a lot of progress towards the planned Monsanto takeover,’ Baumann said. 
If it goes ahead, the buyout of Monsanto – valued at around $62.5 billion – will be one of the largest in German corporate history.
The deal has been approved by more than half the necessary regulatory authorities around the world, Bayer said, although one of the weightiest competition watchdogs, the European Commission, has until April 5 to do so.
Baumann said Bayer was ‘actively responding’ to any reservations on the part of the competition authorities, pointing to Bayer’s planned 5.9-billion-euro sale of agrochemical activities to German competitor BASF, its disposal of its vegetable seeds business and its openness to further concessions.
Bayer has now pushed back the date by which it hopes to complete the deal from early 2018 to some time between April and June.
The merger has also faced strong opposition from environmentalists and politicians, who fear the combined global giant could wield too much power and force farmers to buy more of its products. 
Baumann conceded that Bayer could do more on other issues such as ‘responsibility for society and the environment.’
But he insisted that ‘distrust is no basis for shaping the future’ and he called for ‘dialogue’ between the group and its critics.
Pharma lifts spirits
Among Bayer’s different divisions, pharmaceuticals reported a strong year, with slightly higher sales and a leap in profits, while animal health made slower progress.
Meanwhile, headwinds in major markets China and the United States hit sales in the over-the-counter medicines unit, while a poor harvest in Brazil sapped revenue at the crop science division.
For 2018, Bayer said it expects revenues to remain steady, but it is pencilling in a ‘mid-single-digit percentage’ increase in profits. 
Once the Monsanto deal goes ahead, however, the firm could look forward to ‘a significant increase in revenues’ and profits in the first year after completion, Baumann said.
Shares in the group were showing a loss of 3.4 percent at 1100 GMT on the Frankfurt stock exchange, while the DAX index of blue-chip German shares was down by only 0.3 percent.
‘The outlook for 2018 is notably poor’ even if the Monsanto deal goes ahead, analysts at Berenberg bank commented.