Wrap-up of a Great Year for DuPont

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2011 has been a great year for DuPont (NYS: DD) in terms of business expansions, revenue, and profit growth. Its stock performance, however, hasn't been as bright; it's down 12.4% for the year. But that doesn't mean DuPont had a bad performance year.

In fact, DuPont's shares haven't underperformed as badly as its peers -- Dow Chemical's (NYS: DOW) share price is down 24%, Huntsman's (NYS: HUN) is down 38%, and KronosWorldwide's (NYS: KRO) is down 18.7%.

After maintaining strength for months, DuPont's shares plunged to a low of $38.49 in the first week of October when Europe and Greece crisis fears hit the markets hard. The shares then bounced back beautifully, recovering almost 27% in a month's time. Now, when the year is coming to an end, DuPont's shares have again lost some value after the company lowered its full-year earnings guidance.

Let's rewind 2011 for DuPont.

Coup of the year
DuPont started the year with a bang, announcing its plan to acquire food ingredients company Danisco. Not surprisingly, DuPont's share price touched around $57 in April -- its highest price for 2011 -- when the company received all regulatory approvals to complete the acquisition.

What impressed me most was the speed of Danisco's integration with DuPont's business. Danisco contributed almost 3% to the total 19% jump in DuPont's second-quarter top line, and nearly 12% to the 32% jump in its third-quarter sales. Since this acquisition, the share of sales from DuPont's agriculture and nutrition segments has gone up.

Acquiring Danisco was a big deal, considering that DuPont shelled out $5.8 billion in cash and assumed Danisco's debt worth $500 million. DuPont's total debt on June 30 was $14.8 billion, up from $10.3 billion on Dec. 31, 2010. DuPont's total debt-to-equity ratio stood at 128.9% on Sept. 30.

If these high debt levels make you a little nervous, DuPont's huge war chest and good interest coverage ratio should help you relax.

Making money
DuPont's revenue growth was solid throughout the year. After posting year-over-year top-line growth of 18% in its first quarter, DuPont's revenue climbed 19% in its second quarter. Its last quarter was a bigger bumper, with sales surging 32%.  

The best part was how DuPont kept raising its full-year earnings guidance every quarter. From a range of $3.65 to $3.85 per share projected in the first quarter, it came up to a range of $3.97 to $4.05 per share by the third quarter.

But right when investors were bracing for year-end celebrations, DuPont became the party pooper by lowering its guidance to $3.87-$3.95 per share. Bad timing! But this revision is the result of uncertainty surrounding demand in the electronics business. DuPont remains optimistic about its agriculture and food businesses.

The white way
DuPont hit the bull's-eye in May with a planned investment of more than $500 million to expand its titanium dioxide (TiO2) capacity. The pigment project is expected to be completed by 2014 and will provide 200,000 metric tonnes of additional capacity every year.

What makes this move stand out is the TiO2 factor, which has proved nothing less than fairy dust for chemical players this year. 2011 was witness to an extremely interesting cat-and-mouse game in the chemicals industry. DuPont was the cat, hiking TiO2 prices throughout the year and watching the mice (customers like paint retailers) buckle under the cost pressure.

Group game
Each of DuPont's peers enjoyed heavier top lines after playing the pass-the-buck game in 2011.

Dow's revenue jumped 17% while Kronos' sales surged 47% in their respective third quarters. Eastman Chemical's (NYS: EMN) third-quarter revenue also climbed 20% backed by high prices. In fact, sales volumes were flat for all these companies, and revenue shot up primarily because of higher prices.

DuPont's revenue also got a huge boost from soaring TiO2 prices. And with most companies, including Rockwood Holdings (NYS: ROC) , sold out of TiO2 and expecting prices to race ahead of volume growth, good times should continue.

Luck with seeds
What brewed in DuPont's other segments in 2011? Quite a lot, I must say.

To start with, DuPont seed business Pioneer Hi-Bred gained more share in the North American corn and soybean market in 2011. Adding to the excitement was its bagging approval for two of its important corn-insect protection products in September.

I like the timing of this approval, as it has come around when the world's largest seed company, Monsanto (NYS: MON) , is battling issues of bugs eating into its pest-resistant corn seeds. It's a great opportunity for DuPont to promote its products.

Tech plays
DuPont opened four innovation centers in emerging markets this year. These markets now represent almost one-third of DuPont's sales. DuPont also acquired silicon technology firm Innovalight to expand into the solar energy market. It also bagged an agreement to develop technology for television displays of an Asian display manufacturer. Overall, 2011 saw DuPont deepen its focus on fast-growing regions.

Final thoughts for 2011
DuPont might have lowered its guidance, but that shouldn't scare you away from the chemical king. It actually is a tempting package of great performance and growth with solid dividends (it yields 3.8% currently).

We should look forward to another great year from DuPont. Keep checking back to Fool.com for my 2012 preview for the company. If you are looking for a stock idea, check out a new free report on the company we've picked as The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012. This report is absolutely free, but you'll want to take a look before you ring in the new year. Learn about our best idea today.

At the time this article was published Neha Chamaria does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article.The Motley Fool owns shares of Rockwood Holdings. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Monsanto. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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