April 21 (Reuters) - DuPont’s weak quarterly sales and lowered annual profit forecast is expected to provide fresh ammunition to Nelson Peltz in his campaign to split up the chemical maker.
Peltz’s hedge fund Trian Fund Management has for months criticized DuPont’s underperformance, alleging that the company has repeatedly failed to meet financial targets.
Trian, DuPont’s fifth-largest shareholder with a 2.7 percent stake, launched a proxy battle in January for four board seats, including one for Peltz. DuPont has said it could accommodate one of Trian’s nominees, but not Peltz himself.
The battle will come to a head on May 13, when DuPont holds its annual shareholder meeting.
DuPont said on Tuesday it expects full-year operating earnings to be at the low end of its previous forecast as a strong dollar hurts overseas revenue.
“Trian will point to the lowered outlook as further evidence that DuPont fails to meet its financial targets,” SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst James Sheehan said, adding that the profit warning would “likely intensify the debate.”
Trian did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“I don’t know what (Peltz) is going to say, I can imagine,” DuPont Chief Executive Ellen Kullman told Reuters, when asked if the results would give Peltz an upper hand in the proxy battle.
DuPont, which gets about 60 percent of its sales from outside the United States, blamed a stronger dollar for both a fall in sales in the first quarter and its lowered profit forecast for the year.
Excluding an impact of 25 cents per share from the stronger dollar, the company would have reported a profit of $1.58 per share, unchanged from its earnings a year earlier.
Sales fell 9 percent, the biggest decline in five quarters.
Kullman said while the strong dollar had hurt revenue, cost-cutting efforts were adding to the bottom line.
DuPont is targeting annual cost cuts of $1 billion and expects the savings to add 40 cents per share to 2015 profit.
Trian contends the company can save $2 billion-$4 billion in costs every year by separating its volatile materials businesses from its nutrition and health, agriculture, and industrial biosciences businesses.
DuPont, which is spinning off its performance chemicals unit, has said Trian’s demand to split the company would cost $4 billion and add to expenses.
DuPont’s shares fell 3 percent to $70.63 on Tuesday. The stock has risen 6 percent since Trian went public with its campaign last September. (Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)