DuPont Co., the nation's biggest chemical company, said Monday it plans to divest its Conoco Inc. oil unit and will start by selling a 20% stake.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont said the sale will free it to bolster its chemical and life-science businesses, such as biotechnology, agricultural products and pharmaceuticals, which are more profitable and growing faster than the oil business.
Analysts said the sale could fetch as much as $3 billion, valuing Conoco at a minimum of $15 billion.
On the New York Stock Exchange, DuPont shares rose $5.44 to close at $79.88 on the news.
DuPont spent about $7 billion on acquisitions in 1997, much of that aimed at bulking up its life-sciences operations. Analysts expect the company to use proceeds of the Conoco sale to further strengthen these businesses.
Charles Holliday Jr., DuPont's president and chief executive, said he expects earnings from life sciences to represent about 30% of profit by 2002, compared with 15% to 20% last year.
DuPont, with revenue of $45 billion, said it plans to complete the sale of the stake by year-end.