By David Reed, UT EditorLeverkusen, Germany-Bayer AG has reported a 3.6-percent fall in sales to €28, 600 million in 2003, partly as a result of financial adjustments and currency conversions; sales in local currencies rose 5 percent, the firm said in an 18 March announcement. The company suffered a net loss of €1400 million for a variety of reasons.In a separate notice, the firm announced that its NewCo unit, formed as part of its major restructuring over the last few years, will be called Lanxess. This business-which incorporates several polyurethane-related activities such as its Rhein Chemie Rheinau GmbH speciality chemicals unit, including PU systems, and its Dorlastan PU-based fibres unit-will be floated on the stock market in early 2005, "at the latest," Bayer's statement added.Although total sales in 2003 were down, Bayer highlighted the improvements in operating performance and reductions in debt during the year. The operating result before special items (EBIT) increased by 67 percent, to €1400 million-despite difficult economic conditions and negative currency effects, Bayer points out. Net debt was reduced by €2900 million to below €6000 million, well ahead of its €7000 million target, the announcement added.Bayer's polymers segment, which incorporates most of its polyurethane activities, recorded sales down by 5 percent, at €9900 million, although Bayer says "underlying sales of this subgroup increased by 3.8 percent." This segment was also hit by "high impairment charges and other special items" which led to a decline in EBIT to minus €1200 million. EBIT before special items fell a whopping 51 percent to €198 million. In 2002 the business had an EBIT totalling € 407 million. However, there are signs of a gradual economic recovery, driven mainly by the United States and Asia, according to Werner Wenning, Bayer's CEO, speaking during the results meeting. Despite sustained pressure on prices, currency- and portfolio-adjusted sales grew by 5 percent in the first two months of 2004, he indicated. This is true "especially for the industrial businesses," he said, while expressing cautious optimism about the company's performance for the rest of the year."Within just two years we have fundamentally changed Bayer's alignment through a tremendous effort," concluded Wenning. "The separation from Lanxess will complete this process, which has freed up all our energy for innovation and growth. The Bayer ship is on a new course, and it is really picking up steam."