German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, maker of Aspirin, said Thursday it was \"increasingly confident\" for its business this year after a good start to 2012. \"The Bayer group saw an encouraging start to 2012,\" it said in a letter to shareholders. Net profit grew to 1.05 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in the period from January to March, compared with 684 million euros a year earlier. That beat analysts\' expectations for profit of around 940 million euros. Underlying profit, as measured by earnings before interest and tax (EBIT), soared 42.6 percent to 1.637 billion euros and sales were up 6.8 percent at 10.056 billion euros. All divisions contributed to the positive results, particularly the agrochemicals business CropScience, \"which experienced a strong start to the season,\" said chief executive Marijn Dekkers. \"In view of the good start to 2012, we are increasingly confident for the rest of the year,\" Dekkers said. Nevertheless, given continuing uncertainties, Bayer was not ready to raise its full-year forecast and was sticking to the prognosis issued at the end of February, when it forecast full-year sales would rise by around 3.0 percent to some 37 billion euros accompanied by a slight improvement in underlying earnings. By division, sales in the healthcare division, which covers pharmaceuticals and consumer health, increased by 4.2 percent in the first quarter to 4.342 billion euros, with business developing \"particularly well in the emerging markets,\" Dekkers said. Sales at CropScience rose 15.6 percent to 2.610 billion euros, with the highest growth rates seen in North America. In the high-tech materials business, sales climbed 3.8 percent to 2.788 billion euros, with higher volumes in all regions, but selling prices stable compared with the year-earlier quarter. Investors welcomed the earnings, and Bayer shares were among the top gainers on the Frankfurt stock exchange, rising by 2.39 percent to 54.48 euros.