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Slumping pigment demand eats into DuPont's profit

A DuPont logo is pictured on the research center in Meyrin near Geneva August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
A DuPont logo is pictured on the research center in Meyrin near Geneva August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) - Weak demand for paint pigment and solar panel parts eroded DuPont's fourth-quarter profit, with Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman tempering expectations for those once-lucrative markets due to "significant challenges."

Demand fell most for DuPont's titanium dioxide pigment, which is used to color paper and plastics. In 2012, that unit's share of the company's overall profit declined to 28 percent from nearly a third in 2011.

Titanium dioxide sales are closely linked to gross domestic product and often are a solid barometer of economic health.

"We've adjusted our plans to meet the changing market environment and grow our businesses in a slow-growth world economy," Kullman said in a statement on Tuesday.

The company's results did beat Wall Street expectations, mainly because of strong sales of food and plastics. That helped DuPont's shares rise 1 percent to $47.46 in morning trading.

DuPont plans to invest more of its research budget this year in food and nutrition businesses, part of Kullman's long-standing policy of showering funding largely on growth areas rather than using funds to prop slipping areas.

U.S. INVESTMENT

Kullman, CEO since 2009, called on U.S. politicians to reach an agreement on the nation's debt and deficit within the next few months, saying the uncertainty is harming job creation.

"We're not getting a recovery in the U.S. that we would have expected," Kullman said. "Understanding the environment, from a tax and regulatory perspective, creates the opportunity to act. I think that uncertainly has been hanging with us for a while."

The company posted net income of $111 million, or 12 cents per share, down from $373 million, or 40 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, DuPont earned 11 cents per share. By that measure, analysts expected 7 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales fell less than 1 percent to $7.33 billion. Analysts had expected $7.26 billion.

DuPont said "softness" in the solar panel market had dented sales. The company supplies pastes and other parts needed to build panels.

DuPont said it expected to earn $3.85 to $4.05 per share in 2013, while Wall Street expects $3.84.

The company forecast 2013 sales of $36 billion, compared with analysts' estimates of $35.9 billion.

Plans to buy back $1 billion in stock in 2013 should boost the company's profit this year by 5 cents per share, Kullman said.

Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont is the most valuable U.S. chemical maker, as measured by market capitalization.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Marguerita Choy)

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