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DuPont says 1Q earnings are up, boosts outlook

DOVER, Delaware — The Dupont Co. raised its 2011 earnings guidance Thursday after double-digit sales boosted first-quarter earnings, and executives urged shareholders of a Danish takeover target to strongly consider its offer.

The chemical company is attempting to buy Danish food additives maker Danisco for nearly $6 billion, but said it would pursue other opportunities if needed.

CEO and chairwoman Ellen Kullman said that DuPont’s offer was “full, fair and firm,” and that the company’s shareholders are choosing between a solid offer and the risk that it will vanish.

DuPont reported net income of $1.43 billion, or $1.52 per share, for the quarter ending March 31, up from $1.13 billion, or $1.24 per share, for the first quarter of last year.

That easily beat predictions of $1.37 per share on Wall Street, according to a poll by FactSet.

Revenue jumped 18 percent to $10 billion, with DuPont marking its fifth consecutive quarter of pricing gains. Results were partly offset by a $171 million pretax decline in pharmaceutical income because of expiring patents.

Dupont, based in Wilmington, Del., increased its full-year earnings guidance to a range of $3.65 to $3.85 per share, up from $3.45 to $3.75 per share.

“Our top-line growth and productivity results support our confidence in raising the full-year earnings outlook,” said Kullman.

Despite the strong quarterly performance, market reaction was relatively muted, with the company’s shares down 20 cents at $55.17 in midday trading.

Jeff Windau, an analyst with Edward Jones, said DuPont turned in an “exceptional” quarter, but that he was maintaining his hold recommendation on the stock amid concerns about rising raw material cost.

“We think that could begin to start weighing on profitability,” Windau said, adding that DuPont may soon be unable to pass on higher raw material costs to customers like it has in the past.

DuPont’s outlook excludes the impact of any deal with Danisco, which the company says could trim full-year earnings by 30 to 45 cents per share.

Last month, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services gave favorable ratings to DuPont’s $2 billion bond offering to help finance the $5.8 billion buyout. That could change after the deal closes, however, because of the debt load the company would take on.

DuPont’s acquisition of Danisco would increase exposure to markets for alternative fuels such as ethanol, for which Danisco products also are used.

DuPont chief financial officer Nick Fanandakis told reporters that DuPont will continue to hunt for other acquisitions if the Danisco deal falls through.

“I think there probably is a little frustration that maybe some of the Danisco shareholders haven’t jumped aboard a little faster,” said Windau, the Edward Jones analyst.

But Fanandakis said he was confident that the deal will close, pointing out that final regulatory approval was not received until last week.

Meanwhile, DuPont saw sales jump 30 percent in Latin America and 28 percent in the Asia-Pacific region in the first quarter.

Among the company’s business platforms, volume growth was led by a 14 percent increase in the safety and protection unit and 13 percent gain in the agriculture and nutrition segment.

Having struggled recently to keep pace with the company’s other business units, DuPont’s performance coatings segment, which sells products ranging from automobile refinishings to industrial coatings and commercial vehicle finishes, saw sales grow 10 percent on higher volumes.

“Global automotive markets improved primarily due to a significant increase in North American auto builds,” the company said. “Strong demand continued in industrial coatings, particularly in the North American heavy-duty truck market.”

DuPont’s performance chemicals and electronics and communications units led the company in sales growth, primarily due to pricing gains of 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The company said strong global demand for titanium dioxide, refrigerants and fluoroproducts allowed for higher prices.

DuPont officials said the market for titanium dioxide, a whitening pigment used in products ranging from automotive and house paint to toothpaste, is “extremely tight,” but that they have the ability to configure manufacturing processes in an effort to meet demand.

DuPont had to increase prices in its electronics and communications unit due to higher metal prices, but the segment posted a 9 percent increase in volume, driven by strong demand in the solar industry and consumer electronics in the Asia-Pacific region.