Despite weaker sales across the board, DuPont Co. (DD) today posted stronger-than-expected earnings for the third quarter, thanks to its aggressive cost-cutting and declining prices for its raw materials.

The chemical giant reported that its third-quarter net income rose to $409 million, or 45 cents a share, compared with $367 million, or 40 cents a year earlier, helped by what the company called "significantly lower" costs. The 2008 numbers, however, included a $146 million (16 cents a share) after-tax hurricane-related charge. Sales plunged 18 percent to $6 billion on lower volume. Analysts had forecast profit of 33 cents. Shares of the Wilmington, Del., company rose in pre-market trading. They are up nearly 36 percent year to date.

Company executives sounded an optimistic tone about the future, despite continued weakness across all of their businesses.

"With a more streamlined productivity, DuPont is well-positioned to capitalize as markets improve," said CEO Ellen Kullman in a press release. " We will continue to leverage our market-driven science across the company to deliver products customers want around the world."

Sales at all DuPont businesses were down. Agriculture & Nutrition fell 5 percent to $1.2 billion. Sales were $1.5 billion in Coatings and Color Technology, down 16 percent, reflecting continued weakness in auto sales. Lower volume pushed down sales of Electronic & Communication Technologies down 13 percent to $919 million. Weakness in major markets pushed down revenue in Performance Materials by 24 percent to $1.3 billion while Safety & Protection plummeted 32 percent to $1 billion.

DuPont revised its full-year 2009 earnings outlook to $1.95 to $2.05 per share, excluding significant items. The full-year free cash flow target remains $2.5 billion.


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