Air Liquide SA have reported a 7.4 percent rise in net profit for 2006 according to new figures.

The group has also raised its growth and profit target for the next five years, predicting growth opportunities in the energy, environment and health care sectors.

Net profit rose to €1bn (US$1.31bn) in 2006 mostly on cost-cutting measures, from €933m reported in 2005. This was surprising to the markets, which had anticipated the numbers to be around €988m (US$1.3bn). Overall, operating profit grew 12.8 percent to €1.66bn (US$2.18bn) in 2006, from €1.47bn in 2005, over revenue of €10.95bn (US$14.4bn), up from €10.44bn in 2005, the company said.

Chairman and CEO Benoit Potier forecast that demand for oxygen and hydrogen gas from the petrochemical and steel-making industries would increase over the coming years. Therefore, in terms of its business plan Air Liquide said it expects like-for-like revenue to grow between 8 percent and 10 percent a year in 2007-2011, which should lead to annual growth in net profit of 10 percent to 13 percent.

Previously, the company had set a 7-9 percent revenue growth target for the period. For 2007, the company sees double-digit growth in net profit.