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Merrill Upgrades Monsanto to 'Buy'

Merrill Upgrades Monsanto (MON) and Solutia (SOI) to buy.

Monsanto, Solutia, and Pfizer unit Pharmacia will pay more than $700 million to settle a decades-old lawsuit over PCB contamination at a chemical plant in Alabama.

Analyst Donald Carson says the settlement represents 20,000 plaintiffs in on-going and pending cases. He says Monsanto's $390 million payment is much lower than market estimates. Solutia will pay $50 million, and its commercial insurance providers will provide the rest -- $160 million in cash.

Carson thinks the settlement greatly improves the potential that chemicals-maker Solutia will be able to refinance its credit facility and address upcoming bond maturities and pension funding obligations. He thinks this settlement is favorable for Solutia as Monsanto's other contingent liabilities associated with Solutia should be covered by Solutia's cash flow from operations.

While operating as Monsanto, the chemical plant made polychlorinated biphenyls, a once-common electrical insulator banned in the 1970's amid health concerns. Solutia was later spun off from Monsanto.

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