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DuPont in talks with rivals about agribusiness

Company expects 2015 sales to fall by 11-12 per cent

(Photo courtesy DuPont Argentina)

Reuters — DuPont is talking to rivals about its agriculture business, interim CEO Edward Breen said Tuesday, less than a week after Dow Chemical announced a review of its farm chemicals and seeds unit.

Falling crop prices and rising fertilizer output have triggered talk of consolidation among farm-focused companies.

DuPont has been touted as a potential buyer of Dow’s farm unit, but some have questioned if the company is in a position to do so.

Breen took over earlier this month after Ellen Kullman abruptly stepped down from her post.

Asked on a post-earnings call if DuPont was looking to sell its farm unit, he said, “We will do what’s right for our shareholders to create value for them.”

Breen did not commit to a sale or a purchase at the farm unit, which accounted for 22 per cent of DuPont’s total revenue in the third quarter ended Sept. 30.

“We would be shocked if DuPont’s management team did not at least look at Dow’s (Dow AgroSciences) business — a large agriculture business like Dow’s rarely changes owners,” said Grayson Witcher, a portfolio manager at Mawer Investment Management Ltd. Mawer owns DuPont shares.

Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, which lost a proxy battle for DuPont’s board seats in May, has said DuPont can save $2 billion to $4 billion in annual costs by separating its volatile materials businesses from more stable businesses (all figures US$).

DuPont would take a “fresh look” at its “cost structure and capital allocation strategy,” Breen said.

The chemicals and seed producer is already targeting about $1.6 billion in annual savings by 2017.

DuPont could raise its cost-cutting target by 10-20 per cent, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst James Sheehan said.

Cost cuts made up 10 cents of DuPont’s third-quarter operating earnings of 13 cents, which beat the average analyst estimate of 10 cents.

Sales fell 17.5 per cent to $4.87 billion, missing analysts’ average estimate of $5.3 billion.

DuPont expects 2015 sales to fall by 11-12 per cent, with sales falling in five out of six units in the current quarter.

The company, which gets about 60 per cent of its sales from outside North America, has seen a strong dollar chip away 53 cents per share from its earnings this year.

Fourth-quarter operating profit will likely be reduced by 19 cents per share, more severe than the 17 cents impact noted in the third.

Reporting for Reuters by Swetha Gopinath, Sneha Banerjee and Amrutha Gayathri in Bangalore.

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