U.S. chemical major DuPont said Tuesday that fourth-quarter earnings rose before special items, helped by increased profits from its performance materials business and strong agricultural sales in Brazil.
However net income fell to $545 million, or 60 cents a share, from year-earlier profit of $871 million, or 94 cents a share, which included tax benefits and insurance recoveries.
Excluding items, the company posted quarterly earnings of 57 cents a share, up from 45 cents a year earlier. Analysts, on average, had forecast earnings of 50 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.
"Results (from) each of the five operating units were better than expected, most notably in Ag and Performance Materials," JPMorgan analyst Jeffrey Zekauskas said in a note to clients.
Sales in the quarter rose 11 percent to $6.98 billion, boosted by increased volumes and higher local selling prices.
Wall Street had forecast sales of $6.69 billion.
"DuPont's strong earnings growth in the fourth quarter reflects our global presence," Chief Executive Charles Holliday said in a statement.
Ag, Performance Materials Shine
DuPont posted a 23 percent increase in sales from its agriculture business in the quarter, primarily driven by strong seed sales in Brazil.
The business though posted a seasonal pretax operating loss of $89 million, compared with a loss of $148 million a year ago.
Earlier this month, the Wilmington, Delaware-based company saw its shares rise when it increased its 2008 earnings forecast on higher sales from its agricultural products in emerging markets.
Growing global appetite for agricultural products -- including the surging demand for corn from U.S. ethanol producers -- has helped DuPont and its peer Monsanto post bumper seed sales in recent quarters.
The performance materials business posted a 54 percent increase in pretax operating income that was spurred by increased polymer sales to the automobile, electronics and packaging industries.
The unit posted quarterly operating income of $186 million, compared with $121 million a year ago.
DuPont said it expected first-quarter earnings of $1.12 to $1.17 a share, and it affirmed its full-year earnings outlook of $3.35 to $3.55 a share.
Wall Street has forecast first-quarter earnings of $1.12 a share and full year 2008 earnings of $3.42 a share.
"We are confident we can deliver attractive growth in earnings in 2008, and see even stronger growth in the years to follow," Holliday said in a statement.
However, shares of the company are down 13.8 percent over the last three months, while the Standard & Poor's Chemical's Index has fallen 8.9 percent during the period.
DuPont shares fell more than 2.5 percent to $41.64 in early New York Stock Exchange trading.