Delaware's venerable DuPont (NYSE: DD ) took center stage Tuesday, describing circumstances that resulted in a dip in its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings. But it managed a full-year earnings improvement and stuck with its prediction of further growth in the current year.
For the quarter, the nation's third-largest chemicals company earned $373 million, or $0.40 per share, versus $376 million, or $0.40 per share, for the comparable quarter in 2010. Revenue for the quarter was up 14% at $8.4 billion. If you back out special items for the most recent quarter, primarily a $0.23-per-share impact from an increased tax rate, per-share earnings came to $0.35, compared to $0.50 as the prior year came to an end.
Nevertheless, DuPont outdid the analysts' consensus by $0.02 per share. And despite the year-over-year slide in adjusted earnings, DuPont's management continues to anticipate 2012 earnings of $4.20 to $4.40 per share, 12% higher than 2011. Amid attention to full-year earnings, it bears noting that DuPont's full-year profits, minus special items, improved a solid 31% over those of 2010.
Fourth-quarter results were affected by slowing demand for the company's products across the globe, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, where it saw volumes decline by fully 23%. From a segment standpoint, the agricultural unit managed to generate an 8% year-over-year improvement, based upon a 5% bump in selling prices and a 3% increase in volumes. Beyond that, nutrition and health benefited significantly from the acquisition of Danisco's enzyme operation.
As DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman was careful to note, the volume declines that affected the company in the most recent quarter were in large part a result of customer destocking, rather than a reflection of softening economic conditions. "As the channel corrects for significant overproduction in the first half of 2011, we expect destocking to be completed by midyear, perhaps sooner, with PV installations to be up about 10%," she said.
You've almost certainly seen the news that Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) will deal with continuously sliding natural gas prices -- which are now in the vicinity of $2.30 -- by cutting its gas production by about 8% for the year. As we look at chemicals companies, it's worth interjecting that the plastics operations at companies like DuPont, Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW ) , and Eastman Chemical (NYSE: EMN ) will benefit significantly from the decline in that important plastics raw material.
For my money, it's important to adopt a full-year reference point relative to DuPont's results and to note that management continues to believe that 2012 will result in solid growth at the company. On those bases, I urge Foolish investors to keep close tabs on this solid company by adding its name to your individual version of My Watchlist.