Trans-Atlantic Flops

The Call of the Wild

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Bayer's bid for Monsanto could turn out the way other German wagers have -- poorly. Clockwise from top left, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, the CEOs of Deutsche Bank buying Banker's Trust, Daimler buying Chrysler and Deutsche Telekom, which wrote off millions in the early phase of the mobile network boom.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Bayer and Monsanto can agree on a price, they could become an unrivaled seed and pesticides juggernaut. But if Bayer pays too much, as other German companies have for U.S. assets, the company could bear the financial burden for years to come.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • U.S.-based agricultural chemicals and seeds specialist Monsanto this week rebuffed Bayer’s $62-billion takeover offer.
    • While the chief executives of both companies have signaled a willingness to negotiate, investment analysts question Bayer’s ability to raise its offer.
    • Bayer’s share has shed nearly 15 percent of its value since the Leverkusen-based company announced its offer for Monsanto on May 10.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Troubled trans-Atlantic takeovers have become something of a recurring nightmare haunting the captains of German industry.

The latest potential victim is Bayer boss Werner Baumann, who is digging in his heels to press forth with the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant’s blockbuster bid for Monsanto. The U.S.-based agricultural chemicals and seeds specialist this week rebuffed Bayer’s $62-billion offer.

As Bayer now carefully considers its next moves in this high-stakes corporate chess match, recent history shows that avoiding disaster in the Land of Opportunity is easier said than done.

Just ask Ron Sommer, the ex-chief executive of Deutsche Telekom. In 2000, with Mr. Sommer at the helm, the former telecommunications monopolist massively overpaid for U.S. mobile phone company Voicestream, shelling out $50 billion (€56 billion) amid the exuberance of the dot-com bubble. But when the bubble burst soon thereafter, write-downs ballooned into the double-digit billions for Voicestream.

Often painted as the poster child for ill-fated Teutonic takeovers of American assets, Mr. Sommer is far from the only German CEO jinxed by epic fails abroad.

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