What happened

2017 will go down in FMC Corp.'s(NYSE:FMC) history as one of its best years yet, what with the stock skyrocketing 67.4%. Bulls point at lithium as the stock's major driver last year, but FMC derives little sales from the chemical element that has seen its demand and prices soar in recent times as the adoption of electric vehicles gathers steam.

FMC shares, in fact, got their biggest kick in March 2017 when the company announced its intention to swap its struggling health and nutrition business and $1.2 billion in cash for DuPont's crop protection business. (DuPont is now known as DowDupont Inc. (NYSE:DD), after its merger with Dow Chemical.) That was a great move, but if you look at FMC's operational performance, you may begin to question the stock's run-up last year. You shouldn't, as the market is wisely betting on FMC's future.

So what

FMC's revenue grew a minuscule 2.6%, and net income crashed to $5.7 million from $193.2 million during the nine months ended 2017. That sounds like a disaster until you realize that loss of earnings from discontinued operations (health and nutrition) hit FMC's bottom line. On an adjusted basis, FMC's earnings grew 29% during the nine-month period.

A woman holding fertilizer in hand in an crop field.

Image source: Getty Images.

More importantly, FMC's revenue should catapult, as the company completed its swap deal with DuPont in November. FMC's agricultural solutions business is now the fifth largest crop-protection company in the world, and the addition of DuPont's patented and globally recognized insecticide brands to FMC's portfolio is expected to add $1.5 billion to the company's top line in fiscal 2017. Not surprisingly, investors chose to ignore FMC's poor operational numbers and continued to bid the stock higher through 2017.

And that's not forgetting FMC's other business, lithium, that has investors even more excited. Though it contributed only 12% to FMC's revenue during the nine-month period, lithium is even more important for FMC's profits than agricultural solutions right now, as my fellow Fool Maxx Chatsko elucidates. As Maxx points out, lithium, a high-margin business, singlehandedly drove FMC's profits in 2017. The potential is even bigger as FMC is not only expanding its lithium business but even contemplating its spinoff into a standalone company.

Now what

Armed with a stronger and a leaner portfolio, FMC looks poised for solid growth this year and beyond. FMC's lithium capacity is about to grow threefold even as the integration of DuPont's crop protection business is expected to drive its agricultural solutions business back onto the growth track. If FMC spins off its lithium business, shareholders can expect an even bigger bounty.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.