DuPont's ( DD) inability to estimate near-term earnings is going to redound in its shareholders' favor Wednesday. The chemical company, which warned of a first-quarter shortfall in January, now says earnings should handily top existing forecasts for that period. Excluding items, DuPont expects to earn 80 cents in the three months to March 31, up from its previous guidance of 70 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were estimating earnings of 71 cents a share for the quarter. The new estimate remains far below the 99-cent first-quarter consensus obtained when DuPont last tried to predict business trends. The new estimate excludes a $165 million charge related to its performance coating segment, where the company said it is cutting 1,500 jobs and closing labs and factories, mostly in Europe. "The increased outlook for earnings in the first quarter reflects improved operating performance by many DuPont businesses, partly offset by weaker market conditions in Europe and unfavorable currency trends," the company said. DuPont shares closed at $41.92 Tuesday, down less than 1% since the start of the year and up 7% since the January earnings forecast. The 52-week high is $54.08, touched a year ago. In premarket trading, the stock gained $1.33, or 3.2%, to $43.25. DuPont applied the first-quarter upside to its 2006 estimate and said it now expects earnings of $2.60 to $2.70 a share for the 12 months.