What Makes DuPont a Great Bet

DuPont (NYS: DD) is gradually transitioning from a chemical major to an agriculture giant, as was evident from its first-quarter numbers. Good overall performance and a reaffirmation of its full-year guidance sum it up for the chemical giant.

But not everything was great about the quarter. Take a look.

The winner is agriculture
The quarter's highlight was undoubtedly DuPont's agriculture division's strong performance. Accounting for nearly 36% of total revenue, the division's sales climbed 16% from the year-ago quarter to $4.1 billion. Both price and volumes added 8% each to the rise.

Thanks to the unusually warm weather, North American farmers have taken to the fields early, pushing up seed and nutrient sales. The world's largest seed company Monsanto (NYS: MON) had a great second quarter primarily because of this factor. Within the segment, DuPont's seed sales rose 20%, backed by corn. Monsanto's top-line growth was largely attributed to higher corn seed sales, too.

DuPont's seed business Pioneer Hi-Bred had released an amazing 154 new Pioneer hybrids and refuge products targeting North American growers in March. The timing was perfect, as the planting season was about to begin. These new launches were widely accepted, thus contributing to DuPont's net price gains.

Pains that persist
DuPont's electronics and communications division continues to be a drag. The effect of destocking by customers felt in the fourth quarter spilled over, resulting in a 17% fall in the division's sales. Peer Dow Chemical (NYS: DOW) also suffered in its last quarter, and expects the softness to continue during its first quarter.

Continued growth in tablets and smartphones, however, is making up for some of the division's weakness, and DuPont expects volumes to pick up by the next quarter.

As for its performance chemicals and performance coatings divisions, although sales were up 6% each, it was entirely because of higher prices. Volumes continued their downward trend. But sequentially, there was slight improvement, and DuPont expects things to turn for the better in a quarter or two.

Heavy claims
Interestingly, one point that was hardly mentioned in the earnings call was charges incurred on account of claims pertaining to an herbicide case. After thousands of complaints of trees getting killed, DuPont suspended sales of herbicide Imprelis as directed by the Environmental Protection Agency last year. Several lawsuits followed, landing DuPont in a claim-paying run.

Including the $50 million accounted for in the first quarter, total charges have gone up to $225 million till March 31. But DuPont says they could shoot up to $575 million, and it may seek insurance recovery for costs above $100 million. Apart from weighing on margins, such issues also tend to be detrimental to a company's image.

The Foolish bottom line
The Danisco acquisition seems to have come at the perfect time. Post-acquisition, agriculture has emerged as one of the biggest revenue generators for the company, and there are no signs of the ag sector slowing down. With the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicting record corn plantations this year, DuPont looks set to make it big in the next quarter. Plus, a dip in natural gas prices (a key input for chemicals) should help lower costs.

The chemical giant has also kicked off a $400 million share buyback plan, which is music to investors' ears. Not to forget its handsome dividend yield of 3.1%.

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

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