Bayer Heals Itself

Bayer (NYSE: BAY  ) can rightfully claim that it achieved a nice turnaround in 2004. The conglomerate may have even brighter days ahead if a bet in its healthcare segment pans out.

The company disclosed that 2004 revenue grew 4.2% to 29.8 billion euros, while earnings swung to a positive 603 million euros from a loss of 1.4 billion euros. Fourth-quarter results, meanwhile, showed even more zing. The top line rose 8.8% to 7.7 billion euros and net income sprang to 41 million euros from a 2 billion euro loss.

Bayer chalked up the improvement in part to greater efficiency from restructuring. In the wake of those changes, the firm boasted that it was able to successfully navigate a tough operating environment, including high raw material costs, and negative currency impact. And more savings could be on the way thanks to major changes now coming to fruition in Bayer's business. The company officially shed its money-losing Lanxess chemicals business in January.

The company's streamlining has no doubt been beneficial, but in the near term, the buzz around Bayer may have a lot more to do with its drug development efforts than with its lean operations. The company is currently working with Onyx Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ONXX  ) to develop BAY-43-9006, a medicine currently in phase 3 development for renal cancer. Interim data on those trials is due out in the first half of this year, according to The Granted, BAY-43-9006 may face competition from SU-11248, a medicine being developed by Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) . But if the data on Bayer's drug are positive, that will go a long way toward establishing the company as a force in the oncology arena.

Until more information is released on BAY-43-9006, investors can bask in Bayer's improved operating results. They can also take comfort from the fact that more good news may be on the way.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.

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