German prosecutors charge ex-Audi boss Stadler over emissions cheating

MUNICH (Reuters) – German prosecutors said on Wednesday they had filed charges against former Audi Chief Executive Rupert Stadler, who is being investigated over his role in Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) emissions test cheating scandal.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to having used illegal engine control software to cheat pollution tests, triggering a global backlash against diesel. The affair has so far cost the German carmaker 30 billion euros ($33.5 billion).

The public prosecutor’s office in Munich said Stadler and three other defendants are being charged with fraud, false certification and criminal advertising practices. Stadler has denied any wrongdoing, his lawyer said.

Premium brand Audi only admitted in November 2015 that its 3.0 litre V6 diesel engines were fitted with an auxiliary control device which was deemed illegal in the United States.

Volkswagen and its former managers have faced numerous law suits, and in April prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig charged former Volkswagen boss Martin Winterkorn with fraud over his role.

The Munich prosecutor said that three of the defendants are accused of having developed engines for Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche cars that used emissions cheat devices.

“Defendant Stadler is accused of having been aware of the manipulations since the end of September 2015 at the latest, but he did not prevent the sale of affected Audi and VW vehicles thereafter,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

Stadler was arrested in June 2018 as part of a broader probe into emissions cheating at Audi, which is part of Volkswagen Group, and spent several months in prison.

Volkswagen later terminated Stadler’s contract against the backdrop of a criminal investigation into whether he was involved in emissions tests cheating.

The prosecutors said that his indictment relates to roughly 250,000 Audi branded cars, 112,000 Porsches and 72,000 Volkswagen cars that were sold in the U.S. and Europe.

‘PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE’

The defendants charged by the Munich prosecutor include former Audi and Porsche manager Wolfgang Hatz as well as two engineers, several people familiar with the proceedings said.

Hatz, former research and development chief at Porsche and former head of powertrain development at Audi and parent Volkswagen, spent several months in custody in 2017 and 2018 over his alleged role in the emissions cheating scandal.

A lawyer for Hatz separately said his client denied any wrongdoing.

The Munich prosecutors on Wednesday declined to identify the defendants, except for Stadler.

Investigations against 23 further suspects continue, the prosecutor’s office said.

The Braunschweig prosecutors had said that Volkswagen’s emissions cheating took place between November 2006 and September 2015, and that Winterkorn failed in his duty to inform European and U.S. authorities after it became clear in May 2014 that diesel engines had been manipulated.

Winterkorn had also neglected to inform customers of, and did not prevent, the continued installation of fraudulent software, the prosecutors have said.

FILE PHOTO: Audi CEO Rupert Stadler speaks during the company’s annual news conference in Ingolstadt, Germany March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo

Winterkorn’s lawyer has said he cannot comment on the charges because he had been denied access to important case files.

Audi said in a statement on Wednesday that it was in the interest of the company, its shareholders and employees to clarify the issues that led to the diesel crisis.

“Until this has happened, the presumption of innocence must prevail,” the spokesman said.

Reporting by Arno Schuetze and Jörn Poltz; Editing by Alexander Smith

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Newer drugs help Eli Lilly top Wall Street quarterly profit estimate

(Reuters) – Eli Lilly and Co (LLY.N) reported a second-quarter profit that topped Wall Street estimates and raised its 2019 earnings forecast on Tuesday, as higher demand for newer drugs offset increased discounts for the U.S. Medicare program and sales declines of medicines that lost patent protection.

FILE PHOTO: The logo and ticker for Eli Lilly and Co. are displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The drugmaker has been working to retain its position as a leader in diabetes care with newer drugs like Trulicity, Jardiance and Basaglar, as its top-selling insulin product Humalog faces increased competition and political pressure over the soaring cost of life-sustaining insulin.

Lilly is counting on new drugs in other therapeutic areas to drive growth, such as Taltz for psoriasis and migraine treatment Emgality, which won U.S. approval last year.

Emgality, which competes with similar new drugs from Amgen (AMGN.O) and Teva (TEVA.TA), had sales of $34.3 million in the quarter, short of analysts’ estimate of $42.3 million, as many new patients get the drug at little or no cost.

Emgality is expected to meaningfully contribute to sales in the second half of the year, Chief Financial Officer Joshua Smiley told analysts on a conference call.

Revenue rose 0.9% to $5.64 billion, above Wall Street estimates of $5.59 billion. However, U.S. revenue was nearly flat at $3.25 billion, as net prices fell for Trulicity, Humalog and other drugs due to changes in Medicare Part D, the part of the government program for older Americans related to self-administered prescription drugs.

Still, Trulicity sales rose 32% to $1.03 billion in the quarter.

The Trump administration and other lawmakers have introduced several proposals aimed at lowering healthcare costs for U.S. consumers, some of which have already been scrapped.

While it is unclear what impact any of these will actually have on drugmakers, Lilly Chief Executive David Ricks said the industry will continue “shaping the debate.”

Humalog sales fell 12% to $677.6 million amid increased competition and as Lilly, bowing to political pressure, offered a half-priced version called Insulin Lispro.

Sales of erectile dysfunction drug Cialis plunged 63% to $200.2 million due to market entry of cheaper generic versions.

Lilly raised both ends of its 2019 adjusted earnings forecast range by 7 cents and now expects $5.67 to $5.77 per share.

Excluding items, Lilly earned $1.50 per share, beating analysts’ estimates by 5 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

The company said Verzenio in a late-stage combination trial helped women with certain types of advanced breast cancer live longer. Verzenio had sales $133.9 million.

Eli Lilly shares were up 0.3% at $109.04.

Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Sterling tumbles on hard Brexit worries; stocks slip

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The British pound on Monday touched its lowest against the dollar since early 2017 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said it now assumed there would be a hard divorce from the EU, while stocks dipped globally after last week touching their highest in five months.

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The dollar index edged up and touched its highest since May 31 as markets counted down to a likely cut in U.S. interest rates this week, with much riding on whether the Federal Reserve signals more cuts will follow.

Sterling fell to a 28-month low of $1.2213 as Johnson’s cabinet prepared the ground for a “no-deal” British exit from the European Union, which many investors say would tip Britain into a recession and inject unwanted uncertainty into financial markets. [GBP/]

The pound was last trading at $1.2216, down 1.32% on the day.

“Political risk is finally getting priced. There is a realization the market had not fully priced the increased chances of a no-deal Brexit,” said Claire Dissaux, head of global economics and strategy at Millenium Global Investments.

The dollar index rose 0.16%, with the euro up 0.03% to $1.1128.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.20% versus the greenback at 108.91 per dollar.

A stronger-than-expected U.S. gross domestic product report on Friday lead some investors to doubt whether the Fed will continue easing this year after its Wednesday meeting.

Interest rate futures are fully priced for a quarter-point rate cut from the Fed, with a 1-in-4 chance of a half-point move.

On Wall Street, tech stocks weighed the most on the S&P 500 in the run-up to the sector’s earnings reports, while the Fed remained as the main market catalyst.

“The key question facing investors now is whether the Fed can get away with a small number of insurance cuts or whether it will be pushed toward a more fundamental loosening of policy,” Neil Shearing, group chief economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 71.48 points, or 0.26%, to 27,263.93, the S&P 500 lost 5.43 points, or 0.18%, to 3,020.43 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 59.53 points, or 0.71%, to 8,270.68.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.14% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.19%.

Emerging market stocks lost 0.43%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.57% lower, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.19%.

Investors were also keeping an eye on U.S.-China trade talks. U.S. and Chinese negotiators meet in Shanghai this week for their first in-person talks since a G20 truce last month, but expectations for a breakthrough are low.

Oil futures zigzagged in and out of positive territory, whipsawed by Fed expectations and the reaction to talks between Iran and some signatories of its nuclear agreement over the weekend.

U.S. crude rose 0.27% to $56.35 per barrel and Brent was last at $63.39, up 0.03% on the day.

U.S. Treasury yields were lower across the board in line with most major sovereign debt markets amid global economic uncertainty, with investors focused on the widely expected interest rate cut by the Fed later this week.

People say the Fed could go 50 basis points, but I think that’s not going to happen,” said Stan Shipley, fixed income strategist at Evercore ISI in New York. “The question is what they are going to say about future cuts.”

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 5/32 in price to yield 2.065%, from 2.081% late on Friday.

Slideshow (2 Images)

The 30-year bond last rose 5/32 in price to yield 2.5943%, from 2.601% late on Friday.

Spot gold added 0.1% to $1,418.99 an ounce. U.S. gold futures fell 0.04% to $1,418.70 an ounce.

Copper rose 0.80% to $6,011.00 a tonne.

Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; additional reporting by Olga Cotaga in London and Kate Duguid & Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

SABIC CEO says no interest in taking over Clariant

FILE PHOTO: Saudi’s SABIC CEO Yousef al-Benyan attends the Saudi-India Forum in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) (2010.SE) has no interest in taking over Swiss chemicals firm Clariant (CLN.S) and considers its 25% stake in the company as “a long term strategic investment,” said its chief executive Yousef al-Benyan on Sunday.

He told a news conference that once market conditions change, SABIC will have another round of talks about the joint venture with Clariant, which the two companies shelved.

Clariant said on Thursday that joint venture talks with top shareholder SABIC had been shelved due to differences over asset prices, a further setback for the Swiss chemicals maker whose CEO abruptly quit last week.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Writing by Saeed Azhar

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Pfizer in talks to merge off-patent drugs business with Mylan

FILE PHOTO: The logo of U.S. pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer Inc. is seen at a branch in Zurich, Switzerland October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) is in talks to merge its off-patent drugs business with Mylan NV (MYL.O) in a stock deal, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Mylan shareholders would receive a little more than 40% of the newly formed entity, with Pfizer shareholders receiving the remainder, the Journal said, adding Pfizer would also get about $12 billion in proceeds from a new sale of debt.

Pfizer and Mylan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

U.S. economic growth slows less than expected in second quarter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. economic growth slowed less than expected in the second quarter as a surge in consumer spending blunted some of the drag from declining exports and a smaller inventory build, which could further allay concerns about the economy’s health.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers carry bags of purchased merchandise at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela/File Photo

The fairly upbeat report from the Commerce Department will probably not deter the Federal Reserve from cutting interest rates next Wednesday for the first time in a decade, given rising risks to the economy’s outlook, especially from a trade war between the United States and China.

Despite the better-than-expected GDP reading, business investment contracted for the first time since early 2016 and housing contracted for a sixth straight quarter. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell early this month flagged business investment and housing as areas of weakness in the economy.

But the signs of robust consumer spending, together with a strong labor market, further diminish expectations of a 50 basis point rate cut and could raise doubts about further monetary policy easing this year.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.1% annualized rate in the second quarter, the government said. The economy grew at an unrevised 3.1% pace in the January-March quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP increasing at a 1.8% rate in the second quarter.

The economy is slowing largely as the stimulus from the White House’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades. The tax cuts together with more government spending and deregulation were part of measures adopted by the Trump administration to boost annual economic growth to 3.0% on a sustained basis.

The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 and growth this year is expected to be around 2.5%. Economists estimate the speed at which the economy can grow over a long period without igniting inflation at between 1.7% and 2.0%.

The GDP report showed a pickup in inflation last quarter. A gauge of inflation tracked by the Fed increased at a 1.8% rate last quarter, just below the U.S. central bank’s 2% target.

The government also published revisions to GDP data from 2014 through 2018. The updated data showed growth in the second and third quarters of last year was not as robust as previously estimated, and the economy grew much more slowly in the fourth quarter than had been reported in March. Revised price data showed moderate inflation last year.

STRONG CONSUMER SPENDING

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, surged at 4.3% rate in the second quarter, the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2017. Consumer spending grew at a 1.1% rate in the first quarter.

Some of the slowdown in consumer spending early in the year was blamed on a 35-day partial shutdown of the government. Spending is being supported by the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years, which is lifting wages.

The jump in consumer spending helped to offset some of the weakness from exports, which fell at a 5.2% rate last quarter, in a reversal of the strong growth experienced in the first quarter.

The plunge in exports caused a deterioration of the trade deficit. As result, trade subtracted 0.65 percentage point from GDP growth last quarter after contributing 0.73 percentage point in the January-March period.

The acceleration in consumer spending also helped businesses to whittle down an inventory overhang, leading to a smaller inventory build.

Inventory investment increased at a $71.7 billion rate, slowing from the first quarter’s $116.0 billion pace of increase. While inventories cut 0.86 percentage point from GDP growth in the second quarter, the smaller pace of stock accumulation is a potential boost to manufacturing.

Businesses have been placing fewer orders with factories while working through stockpiles of unsold goods, which contributed to undercutting manufacturing production. Inventories added 0.53 percentage point to GDP growth in the first quarter.

Business investment fell at 0.6% rate in the second quarter, the first contraction since the first quarter of 2016. It was pulled down by a 10.6% pace of decline in spending on structures, which includes oil and gas well drilling.

Spending on intellectual products, including research and development, increased. Business spending on equipment rebounded at a 0.7% rate in the second quarter. It is seen constrained by design problems at aerospace giant Boeing BA.N.

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on “Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy” in Washington, U.S. July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Boeing reported its biggest-ever quarterly loss on Wednesday due to the spiraling cost of resolving issues with its 737 MAX airplane and warned it might have to shut production of the grounded jet completely if it runs into new hurdles with global regulators to getting its best-selling aircraft back in the air.

The plane was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Production of the aircraft has been reduced and deliveries suspended.

Growth in government investment accelerated, but spending on homebuilding contracted for a sixth straight quarter.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tesla set to lose over $5 billion in value after pushing profit timeline

FILE PHOTO: Tesla super chargers are shown in Mojave, California, U.S. July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Shares of Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) fell 11 percent on Thursday and were set to knock off more than $5 billion in the electric carmaker’s market value, a day after it disappointed Wall Street by pushing its profit timeline once again.

Analysts also focused on the impact of shrinking margins, a key challenge for the company in delivering a profit consistently.

“For Tesla to be more than niche, one of the core challenges will be for Tesla to improve its gross margin profile,” a Credit Suisse analyst wrote in a research note.

Wedbush Securities cut its price target on the stock from $230 to $220, citing the softer margin profile.

The stock was down 11.34% at $234.84 before the opening bell, still 3% above the median price target of $227.5.

The delayed timeline on profitability also weighed on its $1.8 billion junk bond US166858275=, which debuted just shy of two years ago. In European trading, the bond dropped more than 2 full points in price, and its yield, which moves in the opposite direction, surged back above 8% for the first time since July 1.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Sayanti Chakraborty in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Facebook to pay record $5 billion U.S. fine over privacy violations but critics call it a bargain

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) will pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to resolve a government probe into its privacy practices and the social media giant will restructure its approach to privacy, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Stickers bearing the Facebook logo are pictured at Facebook Inc’s F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

The FTC voted 3-2 along party lines to adopt the settlement, which requires court approval, even as Democrats said the settlement did not go far enough or require a large enough fine.

“Despite repeated promises to its billions of users worldwide that they could control how personal information is shared Facebook undermined consumers’ choices,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons, a Republican, in a statement.

But Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said the penalty provided “blanket immunity” for Facebook executives “and no real restraints on Facebook’s business model” and does “not fix the core problems that led to these violations.”

Facebook declined to comment ahead of the settlement’s public release.

The FTC said that Facebook’s data policy was deceptive to “tens of millions” of people who used Facebook’s facial recognition tool and also violated its rules against deceptive practices when it did not disclose phone numbers collected to enable a security feature would be used for advertising.

Under the settlement, Facebook’s board will create an independent privacy committee that removes “unfettered control by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over decisions affecting user privacy.”

Facebook also agreed to exercise greater oversight over third-party apps.

Chopra and Democratic FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter, who opposed the settlement, said the $5 billion penalty may be less than Facebook’s gains from violating users’ privacy.

“Until we address Facebook’s core financial incentives for risking our personal privacy and national security, we will not be able to prevent these problems from happening again,” Chopra said.

The FTC Republican majority argued the settlement “significantly diminishes Mr. Zuckerberg’s power — something no government agency, anywhere in the world, has thus far accomplished.”

The Republican commissioners led by Simons said if the FTC had gone to court “it is highly unlikely that any judge would have imposed a civil penalty even remotely close to this one.”

They called the settlement — in light of what the FTC might have been able to win in a court fight — “a complete home run.”

The Republican majority noted that Zuckerberg and other company executives will have to sign quarterly certifications attesting to the company’s privacy practices.

The FTC said Zuckerberg or others filing a false certification could face civil and criminal penalties.

Facebook also is barred from asking for email passwords to other services when consumers sign up.

Facebook is barred from using telephone numbers obtained in a security feature, like two-factor authentication, for advertising and must get user consent if it plans to use data from facial recognition technology.

FTC DECIDED TO SETTLE PROBE

The settlement stems from the company’s alleged violations of a 2012 FTC settlement order over privacy issues.

Slaughter said the FTC should have taken Facebook and Zuckerberg to court.

Slaughter also criticized the FTC’s decision to grant Facebook and its executives a release from liability for any claims that prior to June 12, 2019 it violated the FTC 2012 settlement as “far too broad” and said the FTC failed “to impose any substantive restrictions on Facebook’s collection and use of data from or about users.”

Chopra added that by “settling the commission — and the public — may never find out what Facebook knows… It is difficult to conclude that the commission got the better end of the bargain.”

The FTC has been investigating allegations Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The FTC also said Wednesday that Cambridge’s former CEO Alexander Nix and former app developer Aleksandr Kogan, who worked with the company, had agreed to a settlement with the FTC that will restrict how they conduct business in the future.

The settlement comes a day after the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it was opening a broad investigation of major digital technology firms into whether they engage in anticompetitive practices, the strongest sign the Trump administration is stepping up its scrutiny of Big Tech.

The review will look into “whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The Justice Department did not identify specific companies but said the review would consider concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online” — an apparent reference to Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Facebook Inc (FB.O), and potentially Apple Inc (AAPL.O).

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Coca-Cola raises 2019 forecast on coffee, zero sugar soda boost

Cans of Coca-Cola are pictured in the refrigerator during an event in Paris, France, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

(Reuters) – Coca-Cola Co (KO.N) on Tuesday beat analysts’ estimate for quarterly profit and raised its organic revenue forecast for the full year, driven by demand for zero sugar soda and innovations, such as the Coca-Cola Plus Coffee.

The world’s biggest beverage maker has been responding to changing consumer tastes by moving beyond traditional sodas and offering drinks that are lower in sugar or come in new flavors.

Coca-Cola bought Britain-based Costa Coffee for $5.1 billion and recently rolled out ready-to-drink coffee in cans in the UK and a coffee based soda in several markets. The company plans to launch the beverages in other markets this year.

The beverage maker reported a 6% rise in second-quarter organic revenue, a keenly watched metric that gives sales growth excluding acquisitions and currency fluctuations.

Net revenue rose 6.1% to $10 billion in the second quarter ended June 28, a touch above the estimate of $9.99 billion, according IBES data from Refinitiv.

Net income attributable to the Atlanta, Georgia-based company rose to $2.61 billion, or 61 cents per share, from $2.32 billion, or 54 cents per share from a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned 63 cents per share, 2 cents above Wall Street’s estimates.

The company said it expected organic revenues to grow 5% in the whole of 2019, up from its previous projection of a about a 4% rise.

Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Bayer could benefit from home advantage in St. Louis Roundup cancer trial: experts

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE), facing an upcoming trial in St. Louis over allegations that its Roundup weed killer causes cancer, has recruited Missouri-based expert witnesses to make its case in a place where it has century-old roots but where juries often hit companies with huge damages.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the facade of the historic headquarters of the German pharmaceutical and chemical maker in Leverkusen, Germany, May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Four expert witnesses Bayer is seeking to admit hail from Missouri universities, and some legal experts said the company is trying to clinch its first favorable Roundup verdict by emphasizing its reputation as a major local employer.

Bayer on Tuesday announced it would create an additional 500 “high-paying” jobs in the St. Louis area. The Bayer unit that makes the glyphosate-based herbicide, the former Monsanto Co, was founded in St. Louis in 1901. Monsanto employed 5,400 full-time employees in the St. Louis area as of May 2018, according to company statements.

The trial in St. Louis County Circuit Court, expected to begin on Aug. 19, was brought by Illinois resident Sharlean Gordon, who says she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Roundup for around 14 years at her home. It is the fourth trial over Roundup and the first one outside of California, where three juries hit Bayer with verdicts as large as $2 billion. Bayer is appealing those verdicts.

Bayer denies glyphosate or Roundup cause cancer, saying decades of studies have shown glyphosate to be safe. The company said it looked forward to presenting the scientific evidence to juries. It said the experts in the upcoming St. Louis trial are at the top of their field and were selected for their expertise, not their Missouri ties.

The Germany-based company has lost nearly 40 billion euros ($33.75 billion) in market valuation since the first Roundup jury verdict in August 2018. Bayer last month announced it had set up a committee to help resolve the litigation, saying it would “constructively engage” in court-mandated mediation talks.

NEW WITNESSES

Bayer has said in court papers and hearings that juries in California’s traditionally liberal Bay Area, where the first three trials took place, were unfairly influenced by news coverage of the trials and harbored negative attitudes toward Monsanto in part because of its development of genetically modified seeds.

The company’s experts in those cases came mostly from states other than California. In the St. Louis trial, Bayer is so far seeking to admit a total of 14 scientific expert witnesses. None previously testified in the Roundup litigation.

Of the more than 13,400 Roundup claims nationwide that have yet to go to trial, about 75% have been filed in St. Louis city or county courts, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. Those courts have a history of issuing large punitive damages against companies and have often been criticized by business groups for issuing favorable plaintiffs rulings.

By suing in the county where Bayer’s crop science business is headquartered, plaintiffs can also take advantage of procedural rules allowing them to compel live testimony from executives who work locally. In the California trials, jurors only saw video depositions of Monsanto executives.

David Noll, a professor at Rutgers Law School, said Bayer appeared to be hiring local experts to appeal to St. Louis jurors. “(They) are not seen as hired guns, flying in from afar, but … can explain the case in a way local jurors understand,” Noll said.

But Alexandra Lahav, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, said Bayer could simply be using new experts that the company thinks would have a better rapport with the jury and “not necessarily because the experts are local.”

Counting on a more favorable jury pool in a company’s backyard is not a new tactic.

New Jersey-based Merck & Co (MRK.N), which in the early 2000s faced thousands of lawsuits by patients over its Vioxx painkiller, won several trials in New Jersey, which plaintiffs lawyers at the time attributed to the company’s strong ties to the state.

Merck in 2013 settled some 27,000 Vioxx claims for $4.85 billion.

Reporting by Tina Bellon in St. Louis; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.