DuPont Profit Tops Estimates as Solar Helps Electronics Unit

DuPont Co., the biggest U.S. chemical maker by market value, posted third-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates on higher sales volumes at units that make materials for solar panels and bullet-resistant vests.

Profit excluding some legal and pension costs was 45 cents a share, Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont said today in a statement, topping the 41-cent average of 19 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Net sales climbed 4.7 percent to $7.74 billion, trailing the $7.77 billion average estimate.

Sales of films and metal pastes used in solar panels drove a 67 percent gain in operating profit at the electronics unit. Earnings rose 16 percent at the safety and protection division, where U.S. military demand helped sales of Kevlar anti-ballistic fibers, DuPont said in a slide presentation.

“There is stability in photovoltaics, which has been an unstable area for them” in the past, John Roberts, a New York-based analyst at UBS Securities LLC who recommends holding DuPont shares, said today by phone.

DuPont rose 1 percent to $60.17 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 34 percent this year, outpacing an 18 percent advance in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, of which DuPont is a member.

Third-quarter net income rose to $285 million, or 30 cents a share, from $5 million, or break even, a year earlier. Items DuPont excluded from its adjusted per-share earnings include some employee-retirement expenses, costs to reimburse customers whose trees were damaged by Imprelis herbicide, and expenses to settle a titanium-dioxide antitrust claim.

‘Subdued’ Demand

DuPont Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman is under pressure to improve the company’s performance from Trian Fund Management LP. The New York-based hedge fund, co-founded by activist Nelson Peltz, raised its stake to more than 21 million shares, or about 2.3 percent, and met top DuPont executives to discuss ways to boost shareholder value, people familiar with the matter said in August.

DuPont today reiterated its full-year operating earnings forecast of about $3.85 a share. That implies fourth-quarter earnings of about 56 cents a share, 1 cent more than the average of 19 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“While we expect overall sequential growth in industrial market demand will remain subdued, fourth-quarter operating earnings will be up substantially from last year,” Kullman said in the statement.

Performance Chemicals

Prices for DuPont’s products on average fell 3 percent in the quarter. Sales volumes climbed 9 percent, including a 10 percent gain in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“There are signs of recovery in their European business,” Roberts, the UBS analyst, said.

Installations by the solar industry may increase 10 percent this year, DuPont said in its presentation. Sales at the world’s biggest solar-energy companies probably rose 17 percent in the third quarter, according to the median of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The agriculture unit posted the biggest sales gain, rising 15 percent on Latin American pesticide demand and seed prices, the company said. That helped narrow the loss in the seasonally weak third quarter when farmers in the U.S. and Europe haven’t begun to buy supplies for the next planting.

“The loss was better than expected,” said Mark Gulley, a New York-based analyst at BGC Partners LP who recommends selling the shares. “Ag is leading the way with the best, most balanced growth in this portfolio.”

Spinoff Mulled

The agriculture, safety and electronics units are the kinds of higher-margin businesses that Kullman is focusing on while continuing to move away from commodity chemicals.

She said in July that DuPont is considering a spinoff or sale of its performance chemicals unit, which generated $7.2 billion of revenue last year, because of slow-growing, volatile earnings. The unit makes cyanide, Freon refrigerants, Teflon coating for nonstick pans, and titanium dioxide, known by its chemical formula TiO2 and used in paints and plastics.

DuPont “is moving with urgency” to complete its review of the unit as it considers “a wide range of options” and their impact on cash flows, dividends, debt levels, pensions and taxes, Kullman said today on a conference call with analysts. She declined to say when a decision will be made.

Imprelis Compensation

The performance chemicals segment posted a 38 percent decline in third-quarter operating profit as prices fell. The business is starting to recover, with sales volumes rising 25 percent, the third consecutive quarterly improvement, DuPont said.

“We’re seeing clear signs this market has stabilized,” Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Fanandakis said on the call.

Rising interest rates may cut the company’s unfunded pension liability by $2 billion to $3 billion by year end, the CFO said.

DuPont, founded in 1802 to make gunpowder, produces thousands of products from genetically modified seeds to plastics for auto parts.