DOVER, Delaware — The DuPont Co. said Tuesday that strong performance in its nutrition and health unit and lower raw material costs contributed to an increase in third-quarter earnings.
The Wilmington, Delaware-based science and chemicals company reported net income of $433 million, or 47 cents per share, up from $285 million, or 30 cents per share, a year earlier.
Net sales totaled $7.5 billion, down from $7.8 billion last year. The company attributed the drop in revenue to portfolio changes. Volumes were up globally, except for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Total revenue increased to $7.87 billion from $7.8 billion, while volumes were up in all business segments except the agriculture unit, which saw lower corn seed prices and sales.
Removing one-time charges related to pension costs and the spinoff of DuPont's performance chemicals unit, earnings were 54 cents per share, up from 45 cents per share last year and topping the 53 cents Wall Street analysts were expecting, according to a FactSet poll.
The company said the separation of its performance chemicals unit remains on track for mid-2015. The unit's products include titanium dioxide, a widely used industrial whitening pigment.
DuPont shares were down 14 cents at $67.74 in afternoon trading.
DuPont Chairwoman and CEO Ellen Kullman said the company improved operating margins in most of its business segments despite a weaker agricultural environment and sluggish economic growth in most of the world.
The agriculture unit, which has been a mainstay of DuPont's financial performance in recent years, saw sales decline by 4 percent. The unit's operating loss narrowed by 11 percent in the third quarter to $55 million, due mostly to lower seed costs and operating efficiencies, which were partially offset by lower sales. Increases in insecticide and fungicide volumes, mainly in Latin America, were more than offset by lower corn seed prices and lower corn seed and herbicide volumes.
Meanwhile, the nutrition and health segment saw operating earnings increase 23 percent to $100 million for the quarter, due in part to lower raw material costs and productivity changes. The safety and protection unit saw an 18 percent increase in operating earnings, also due to lower product costs and productivity improvements.
For the fourth quarter, DuPont said it expects continued sluggish growth in the global economy and continuing challenges in agriculture, along with currency pressures. But the company maintained its outlook for 2014 operating earnings in the range of $4 to $4.10 per share. Analysts are expecting $4 a share, according to FactSet.
The latest earnings report comes as activist investor Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management is pressuring DuPont to split into two companies in order to boost shareholder value and improve financial performance. Trian sent a letter to DuPont's board last month calling for the agriculture, nutrition and health and industrial biosciences units to be combined into a single growth company, separate from the more cyclical businesses of performance materials, safety and protection, and electronics and communication.
Peltz has recently called for PepsiCo to spin off its underperforming beverage unit and he has been nominated to the board of The Madison Square Garden Co., which on Monday announced plans to split into two companies.
Kullman on Tuesday declined to say whether DuPont's board will vote on Trian's recommendations. She added that the company's current capital structure provides the flexibility to pursue strategic growth opportunities.