Giant chemical company and Dow component DuPont (NYSE:DD) reported satisfactory earnings before the bell on Tuesday morning. Earnings per share (before items) came in at $0.37 -- beating the Wall Street estimate of $0.33. Sales were a bit mixed. Although reported sales were down about 10% versus last year, stripping out the textile business (which the company has divested) from last year's results shows overall growth of 14% for the quarter.

DuPont's report is a case study in messy accounting; the notes for the income statement are longer than the statement itself, and the company includes an entire schedule to help reconcile various special charges. Fools wishing to delve into DuPont's numbers can get a great education about just how complicated accounting can be when a company gets this large.

Despite that, it can be said that all of the company's business segments grew in the fourth quarter -- led by the performance materials and safety and protection divisions. As companies such as Cytec (NYSE:CYT) and Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation Mine Safety Appliances (NYSE:MSA) have shown in their own right, these are certainly high-growth segments at the moment.

Looking ahead, DuPont acknowledges that higher energy prices are going to start hurting results. Not only does DuPont rely on oil and natural gas to fuel its plants but also some of the company's products are actually made out of oil. While the company has so far been able to stay ahead of rising prices (the prices for many chemicals have risen faster than the price for oil), this won't go on forever. Even though the company's guidance supports the notion of 17% growth next year, sooner or later chemical prices will cool, and growth will slip back to a range of high single digits to the low teens.

While the company's trailing price-to-earnings ratio of 22 is rich for a giant cyclical chemical company, some of that premium is due to DuPont's long history of innovation, profitability, and dividend payouts. With a yield of 3% and a proven business model, DuPont might be a good destination for Fools wishing to pick up a nice dividend while keeping some exposure to positive economic growth.

For more on the growth in specialty chemicals, see:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson is a chartered financial analyst. He has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.