DuPont plans to exit its once-lucrative paint pigments business to focus on its thriving DuPont Pioneer agricultural unit, better equipped to shield the biggest U.S. chemicals maker from market volatility.
DuPont’s shares rose as much as six per cent on Tuesday to their highest in more than 13 years after the company said it would consider selling or spinning off its performance chemicals unit, which contributed a fifth of its sales last year.
DuPont is joining an industry-wide shift among chemical makers, including rival Dow Chemical, into production of seeds and pesticides, which have proven to be less exposed to market ebbs and flows than the popular pigment titanium dioxide.
Agricultural demand is driven by North American farmers in the first half of the year and South American farmers in the second. The expanding global population, particularly in Asia, is also driving demand for fertilizers, seeds and pesticides.
Chief executive Ellen Kullman said DuPont’s earnings would be “significantly better” in the second half of 2013 than in the same period last year due to agricultural growth in the Americas — reinforcing the planned exit from performance chemicals.
Demand for titanium dioxide, a white pigment that gives shine to car paints, sunscreen and toothpaste, has long been susceptible to swings in the global economy.
Global titanium dioxide prices went into a tailspin last year after the world’s biggest producers, including DuPont, Saudi Arabia’s Cristal Global, Tronox Ltd. and Huntsman Corp., restarted plants idled during the recession.