Yesterday, the German conglomerate published its financial results for 2023. The main points to note are that operating profit was impacted by a spectacular EUR7 billion asset write-down; that cash flow remains positive; and that EUR16 billion of debt has been refinanced on acceptable terms.

Already discussed in our columns a few months ago, Bayer is in the midst of a restructuring process. These processes resemble major surgery - the patient is not a pretty sight for the duration of the operation, but it is necessary if we hope to save him. Cutting the sacrosanct dividend, while sanctioned by the market, is a rational choice in this direction; we can only wonder at the inertia of shareholders who did not see it coming.

Despite pressure from certain activists, CEO Bill Anderson warns that "structural changes", while still an option, are "not for now". So much for answering the question on everyone's lips.

Otherwise, it's hard to see what room for maneuver the Group has left. Its pharmaceutical segment is in urgent need of reinvention, not least because the patents on its two blockbusters Xarelto and Eylea expire in two years' time. A former Roche employee, Anderson is undoubtedly the right man for the job; but given Bayer's debt levels, he will not be able to pursue an M&A strategy without new resources.

In any case, it would be a high-risk strategy. What's more, union opposition to a sale of the consumer health care business is blocking prospects, in addition to the growth slump it has been experiencing for the past ten years. All of which prompted Bill Anderson to make no bones about describing the Group as "deeply wounded".

The other problem remains, of course, the glyphosate-related lawsuits in the USA. Uncertainty on this subject, alas, is still at a maximum. Bayer, which under its previous management made one mistake after another at an Olympic pace, should have signed a global settlement in 2020. Instead, it has embarked on a state-by-state procedure that threatens to backfire.

It is worth noting, however, that it has set aside EUR6 billion in provisions to cover this. Added to the EUR11 billion already spent in 2020, this seems to provide a fairly substantial safety cushion. In any case, the sooner this aspect is dealt with, the sooner Bayer will be able to refocus on reinventing its pharmaceutical segment.

For the time being, Bill Anderson has dealt with the most pressing issues. Cutting the dividend and suspending bonuses has saved EUR3.5 billion. Waves of redundancies and restructuring are on the agenda, with EUR2 billion in additional savings. These measures are a step in the right direction, but they are only a first step.

The uncertainty is therefore enormous. While we appreciate Anderson's candor, it's clear that the hardest part is yet to come, and that Bayer is far from out of the woods.