Weakness in the housing and auto industries dampened DuPont Co.'s fourth-quarter sales and profit in the United States. But the company saw brisk growth in South America, Asia and Europe, and it was helped by a lower corporate tax rate.

DuPont said yesterday that raw-material costs, driven by oil prices, were moderating.

Fourth-quarter sales at the Wilmington chemical giant rose 8 percent, to $6.28 billion from $5.83 billion in the year-earlier fourth quarter.

While sales rose globally, they fell 3 percent in the United States. Sales jumped 22 percent in the China region and 39 percent in Eastern Europe.

Boosted by tax gains, fourth-quarter net income soared to $871 million, or 94 cents a share, from $154 million, or 16 cents a share, in the year-earlier quarter. Special items in the fourth quarter included a $449 million gain from tax settlements.

DuPont also said its overall tax rate in the fourth quarter was 21.5 percent, compared with 23.5 percent in the year-earlier quarter.

The Wilmington company does not expect a rebound in the housing market until the second half of 2007, because of the backlog of unsold new homes. DuPont sells Tyvek house wrap, kitchen and bathroom countertops, and paint additives to the housing market.

Company executives said they expected a quicker turnaround in the auto market.

In a morning conference call, analysts focused on DuPont's biotech seed and agricultural businesses.

A seed boom fueled by the ethanol industry is opening opportunities in corn seed. But DuPont has been losing market share in corn seed to competitor Monsanto Co. for years.

DuPont executive Erik Fyrwald said the company could lose share again in 2007, but expected its position to stabilize in 2008.

He said DuPont's Pioneer seed business had significant gains in Brazil, Asia, Africa and Europe in the fourth quarter.

DuPont shares recovered some sharp losses earlier in the day and closed down 0.86 percent, or 43 cents, at $49.67 a share. The Dow Jones industrial average, of which DuPont is a component, rose 56.64 points, or about 0.45 percent, to 12,533.80.

For DuPont's full fourth-quarter and year-end financial report, go to: http://go.philly.com/DuPontQ4


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.