While the fourth quarter is traditionally slow for the chemical industry, DuPont said many of its customers chose to draw down existing inventories rather than stock up, which pushed volume down 10 percent.
Sales rose in every region, but only due to a 14 percent jump in pricing. Strong demand from farmers and other agricultural customers -- the one bright spot during the quarter -- helped earnings narrowly beat Wall Street's expectations.
The global economy's taking a bit of a time out here, said Ticonderoga Securities analyst Mark Gulley.
DuPont Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman, looking to assuage concerns of a slowdown, said in a statement that the company remained well-positioned to serve customers and innovate as key markets rebound and global population growth drives new opportunities.
On Tuesday, Kullman did not change DuPont's 2012 earnings target of $4.20 to $4.40 per share, which is mostly above the $4.26 expected on Wall Street.
For the fourth quarter, the company posted net income of $373 million, or 40 cents per share, compared with $376 million, or 40 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding a $100 million charge to settle claims that a DuPont herbicide was killing trees, as well as other one-time items, the company earned 35 cents per share.
By that measure, analysts expected a profit of 33 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales rose 14 percent to $8.43 billion. Analysts expected $8.53 billion. The last time DuPont's revenue missed Wall Street's expectations was the third quarter of 2009.
Sales of pesticides and genetically modified seeds to farmers ahead of the North American spring planting season helped push agricultural revenue up 8 percent to $1.3 billion.
To offset higher metal costs, DuPont raised prices on some electronics by 15 percent in the fourth quarter. That pushed sales of parts to solar panel and consumer electronic producers down 18 percent to $630 million.
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DuPont's agricultural products should continue to sell well, with other products catching up in the third and fourth quarters, said Gulley, the Ticonderoga Securities analyst.
I think their more economically sensitive areas will recover later this year, he said.
Last month Kullman told investors that food and nutrition sales would increasingly bring in a larger chunk of the chemical maker's revenue.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered DuPont to stop selling its Imprelis herbicide last August, after thousands of customers complained that the product was killing certain evergreen tree species.
Shares of Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont were down 0.1 percent at $49.29 in premarket trading.
(Reporting By Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)