(REUTERS) -- DuPont's quarterly revenue missed Wall Street expectations as its customers bought fewer solar-panel materials and digital television parts due to the weak economy, offsetting higher prices across the company.
The one positive note during the fourth quarter -- strong demand from farmers and other agricultural customers for pesticides and genetically modified seeds -- helped earnings narrowly beat Wall Street's expectations.
Revenue rose 14 percent across the company, but only because DuPont raised prices for its products by the same percentage.
Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont is the largest chemical maker in the United States by market value.
The chemical industry's financial health often serves as a barometer for the global economy since its products are used to produce nearly every consumer good, from toys and toothbrushes to smartphones and solar panels.
Shares of DuPont fell 1.2 percent on Tuesday morning but later recovered to trade up 0.3 percent at $49.68 by midday.
DuPont Chief Executive Ellen Kullman downplayed the effects of a weak world economy but conceded that customers are seeking to conserve cash.
We expect some conservatism in the first quarter, with a rebound effect in the second quarter, she told analysts on a conference call. As we look ahead to 2012, we expect modest sales growth.
Kullman did not change DuPont's 2012 earnings target of $4.20 to $4.40 per share, 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.
The 10 percent drop in volume drained earnings by 20 cents per share, DuPont said.
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.
Best Buy Co, the world's largest consumer electronics chain, said earlier this month that its same-store sales fell 1.2 percent in December.
DuPont CEO Kullman said she expected solar customers to hold off on additional purchases in the first quarter, but to reverse that trend later this year. Photovoltaic panel installations should increase 10 percent this year from 2011, she said.
Last month Kullman told investors that food and nutrition sales would increasingly bring in a larger chunk of the chemical maker's revenue.
DuPont's agricultural products should continue to sell well, with other products catching up in the third and fourth quarters, said Mark Gulley, a Ticonderoga Securities analyst.
I think their more economically sensitive areas will recover later this year, he said.
DuPont raised its expectation for its 2012 tax rate to 23 percent from a previous estimate of 22 percent. The increase is because the company now expects increased sales in countries with high taxes, Chief Financial Officer Nick Fanadakis said.
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.