Chemical giant DuPont (NYSE:DD) didn't just give investors solid earnings for the fourth quarter of 2009. It also added a dash of increased optimism for the New Year.

For the quarter, the company earned $441 million, or $0.48 a share -- $0.07 above expectations. That compares with last year's loss of $629 million, or $0.70 a share, for the same period. Although the year-ago period included a $535 million restructuring charge, that's still a nice turnaround. Total revenue, including exchange-rate related income, jumped to $6.81 billion, up from $6.07 billion a year earlier. The primary top-line driver was a 10% increase in volumes, based largely on robust demand in China, Japan, Korea, and India.

Looking at DuPont's individual segments, the Agricultural & Nutrition group -- which has been the star of the show for some time -- generated sales of $1.4 billion, up 12% from last year. The biggest jumps came from Electronics & Communications and its 22% rise in sales, and Performance Materials, with a 20% jump. Performance Chemicals and Performance Coatings turned in high single-digit improvements, while the Safety & Protection segment was the only one to see sales drop.

Recession? What recession?
DuPont is a good example of a major U.S. industrial corporation that appears to be flying above the world's recession. As the company's CEO Ellen Kullman noted, "Across the organization, DuPont delivered on its commitments in 2009. We intend to emerge stronger in 2010 by building on the work we accomplished last year."

It appears that the chemicals industry is leading the economy out of its malaise. Also looking better was chemicals producer Ashland (NYSE:ASH), which turned in solid quarter results the same day. We'll know more about the strength of the industry when the likes of Celanese (NYSE:CE), Eastman Chemical (NYSE:EMN), and Huntsman (NYSE:HUN) report in the coming days and weeks. Also, DuPont's rival Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) is also slated to report results next week.

In the meantime, DuPont has set the bar high. The company has benefited from lower costs, and it still plans to achieve its goal of 20% compound annual earnings growth from 2009 to 2012. At the same time, the company has raised its 2010 earnings guidance from the $2.10-$2.40 per share range to $2.15-$2.45 per share.

With its latest performance, it seems to me, that DuPont is a company worth lots of Foolish attention.

DuPont is a four-star rated stock by the Motley Fool CAPS players. Why not add you opinion on this solid company?  

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a mighty powerful disclosure policy.