Chemical maker DuPont (DD.N) cut its 2011 profit outlook on Friday due to weak electronics and housing markets, sending its shares down more than 3 percent.
DuPont's warning follows similar negative comments on the chemical market from German rivals Wacker Chemie (WCHG.DE) and BASF (BASFn.DE). Many of the chemical industry's customers have been drawing down their own supplies in the fourth quarter before they refresh inventories.
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.
For 2011, Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont now expects to earn $3.87 to $3.95 per share, down from an earlier forecast of $3.97-$4.05.
DuPont raised the lower end of that estimate in October from $3.90 per share.
Analysts, on average, currently expect DuPont to earn $4.03 per share this year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"We are seeing slower growth in certain segments during the fourth quarter, driven by global economic uncertainty," DuPont Chief Executive Ellen Kullman said in a statement. "This uncertainty is contributing to ongoing conservative cash management in some supply chains."
DuPont cited softening demand for consumer electronics and the weak housing market. The company's core agriculture and food businesses, though, "continue to be strong," it said.
The warning came as a surprise, especially since DuPont raised its outlook in October when it announced higher-than-expected third-quarter earnings, said Hassan Ahmed, a chemical industry analyst with Alembic Global Advisors
"Macro economic trends started turning south in the summer, so I was expecting this, but I am concerned because they had upped their guidance in October," he said. "Clearly, things have gone horribly wrong in November and December for them to make this flip-around."
He noted DuPont cited polymers, which are used in more consumer-oriented products, while sectors like agriculture and food remain strong.
Ahmed said he expected de-stocking to continue at least until after the Chinese new year in February.
"I do not expect a substantially up year in 2012," he said.
DuPont is the largest global producer of titanium dioxide, a white pigment also known as Ti02 that is used to make paint and other consumer goods.
In afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, DuPont shares were down 3.3 percent to $45.01.
(Reporting by Arup Roychoudhury in Bangalore, and Ernest Scheyder and Steve James in New York ; Editing by Hezron Selvi, Dave Zimmerman and John Wallace)