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DuPont Profit Tops Estimates as Weather Helps Agriculture

DuPont Profit Tops Estimates as Weather Boosts Agriculture
Bags of DuPont Co.'s drought-tolerant "Pioneer" corn seeds are transported in preparation for planting, near Hays, Kansas. Photographer: Larry W. Smith/Bloomberg

DuPont Co., the most valuable U.S. chemicals producer, reported first-quarter earnings that exceeded analysts’ estimates after unusually warm weather boosted sales of genetically modified seeds.

Net income rose 4 percent to $1.49 billion, or $1.57 a share, from $1.43 billion, or $1.52, a year earlier, Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont said today in a statement. Earnings excluding costs related to damage from the herbicide Imprelis were $1.61 a share, topping the $1.53 average of 13 estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

DuPont’s agriculture unit, the company’s biggest by revenue, benefited from rising corn-seed demand in Brazil and an early spring in the U.S. and Europe. Seed sales rose 20 percent to $3.2 billion, DuPont said in a presentation. The biggest corn crop in the U.S. since 1937 is being planted ahead of schedule, according to the Department of Agriculture.

“Agriculture was a big part of the story,” Jeff Windau, a St. Louis-based analyst at Edward Jones & Co. who recommends buying DuPont shares, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Seeds were the primary driver.”

DuPont fell 1.2 percent to $52.61 at the close in New York.

Net sales gained 12 percent to $11.2 billion from $10 billion, matching the average of 12 estimates. The company raised prices 8 percent on average. Sales volumes fell 2 percent, led by declines in the electronics unit and in the Asia Pacific region.

Herbicide Charges

DuPont reiterated its January forecast that adjusted earnings will climb to $4.20 to $4.40 a share this year, from $3.93 in 2011. That compares with the $4.27 average estimate of 17 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Agriculture pretax operating profit rose 18 percent to $1.3 billion, excluding a $50 million expense related to claims that Imprelis damaged trees. Total charges related to the herbicide were $225 million as of March 31 and may climb to $575 million, DuPont said.

The segment’s profit growth may slow to about 5 percent in the second quarter, the company said in its presentation.

Pretax operating profit in DuPont’s performance chemicals unit, the world’s biggest maker of titanium dioxide, climbed 30 percent on higher prices. The compound, known by its chemical formula TiO2, is a white pigment used in paint. TiO2 sales volumes fell from a year earlier.

Electronics was the worst-performing segment at DuPont. Earnings there fell 70 percent on lower demand for materials used in solar panels.

Danisco Purchase

DuPont has beaten profit estimates every quarter in the three years Ellen Kullman has been chief executive officer. Kullman, who is also the company’s chairman, is targeting a 12 percent annual increase in per-share earnings through 2015.

To do that, the CEO is trying to transform DuPont from a chemicals producer into what she calls a science company that’s focused on meeting global demand for food, energy and security.

DuPont acquired Denmark’s Danisco A/S in June for $7.1 billion to expand in food additives and industrial enzymes used for biofuels. The company is increasing output of solar materials, titanium dioxide used in pigments for paint, genetically engineered crop seeds and Kevlar for bullet-proof materials.

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