DuPont Co. (DD), the No. 2 U.S. chemical company, on Tuesday posted sharply lower fourth-quarter earnings and warned that profit in the current period would be down on hurricane-related plant closures and higher input costs.

The company, whose shares fell 1.4 percent, said first-quarter profit would be about 70 cents per share, down from 96 cents a year earlier and below Wall Street estimates of $1. It cited lower volumes of crop protection chemicals, high energy prices and reduced production after hurricane damage.

Fourth-quarter profit fell to $153 million, or 16 cents a share, from $278 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company reported earnings of 13 cents a share. On that, basis analysts on average had forecast earnings of 10 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates, in line with DuPont's outlook earlier this month.

DuPont warned in October and again in January that profit in the fourth quarter would be lower than expected. The company has struggled with plant closures after damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September.

Production cuts as well as weak sales and higher costs have also hurt. Prices for natural gas, a key ingredient in chemicals, hit a record during the quarter.

Still, shares of DuPont, a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, rose about 9 percent in the fourth quarter, mirroring the rise in the Standard & Poor's chemicals index.

In trading before the market opened, DuPont shares fell 55 cents to $39 on the Inet electronic brokerage system.

DuPont said its DeLisle titanium dioxide plant in Louisiana, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, is not likely to resume full operations until April.