October 27, 2015 / 10:14 AM / 2 years ago

DuPont in talks with rivals about agri business: interim CEO

(Reuters) - DuPont DD.N is talking to rivals about its agriculture business, interim Chief Executive Edward Breen said on Tuesday, less than a week after Dow Chemical Co DOW.N announced a review of its farm chemicals and seeds unit.

A sign at the entrance to the DuPont chemical plant reads "Safety is a core value" in LaPorte, Texas, 26 miles (42 km) downtown Houston, November 17, 2014. REUTERS/Erwin Seba

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 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 percent 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 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-$4 billion in annual costs by separating its volatile materials businesses from more stable businesses.

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 percent,” 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 percent to $4.87 billion, missing analysts’ average estimate of $5.3 billion.

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

The company, which gets about 60 percent 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.

DuPont’s shares were up 2.4 percent at $61.85 in late afternoon trading.

Reporting by Swetha Gopinath, Sneha Banerjee and Amrutha Gayathri in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

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