Air Liquide has posted solid revenues for the first quarter of 2017, thanks to the integration of Airgas and a drastic recovery in its Industrial Merchant activity in North America and Europe.
Group revenue for the first quarter of 2017 was up 38.5% on a reported basis to €5.2bn ($5.7bn), of which its Gas & Services division accounted for €5bn ($5.4bn) – climbing by 42.2% versus Q1 2016.
Revenue was up across the board for all its Gas & Services businesses on a comparable basis, with the exception of its Electronics unit which showed a slight decline. On a comparable basis, overall revenues grew by 1.5% compared to the year prior, which the company attributes to weaker sales in its Engineering and Construction division.
In a more favourable economic environment, positive currency and energy impacts helped boost Air Liquide’s revenues and reinforce its leading global presence. New long-term, air gas supply contracts with ArcelorMittal for steelmaking in France and the Benelux region and with refining company Orpic for nitrogen supply in Oman also helped strengthen its position this quarter.
Other highlights included important acquisitions in the Healthcare sector in France and Colombia and entering into exclusive negotiations with Lincoln Electric on the sale of Air Liquide Welding as it increased its focus on Gas & Services. The company also opened two new hydrogen charging stations in Japan and established its operational and optimisation centre for Large Industry production units on home turf in France.
Revenue rose by 2.7% in the company’s Large Industries unit, driven by a strong rise in demand for air gases and hydrogen in the US. Its hydrogen production sites in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, reached a record production record in March after being restarted in January and revenues in the Asia-Pacific region remained solid.
The Tier One corporation saw higher air gas sales volumes in most countries across Europe thanks to a boost in demand from the region’s steel industry, but overall Air Liquide’s sales were hurt by its shutdown of operations in Donbass, Ukraine, in March.
“All geographies posted growth, notably North America with a recovery in its industrial production”
Benoît Potier, Chairman and CEO
Its Industrial Merchant business was the standout performer for the company this quarter, with revenue soaring by more than 90% on a reported basis and by 2.6% on a comparable basis – its first positive quarter on a comparable basis after eight consecutive quarters of decline. The company attributes this to a clear improvement in business in North American and Europe and by ongoing sustained growth in China.
In Europe, sales were up 4.3% due to higher volumes of liquids and improved cylinder activity, with Air Liquide describing its activity in France, Spain, Benelux and Eastern Europe as “dynamic.”
Most market segments that its Industrial Merchant serves in North America were up, with Airgas also recording increased gas sales having accelerated in March and benefitting from a positive price effect. Activity in Asia-Pacific varied according to country but price effect was positive at 1.2% compared to 0.5% in 2016; Japan was affected by lower equipment and installation sales but liquid and cylinder volumes remained high in general.
Revenue in its Electronics unit dropped slightly by 0.4%, characterised by an unfavourable basis of comparison to Q1 2016 due to higher neon prices and equipment and installation sales last year. Gas carrier sales remained robust in Asia-Pacific in this segment with revenues driven by China, Taiwan and South Korea.
Air Liquide’s performance in its Healthcare unit was solid, with revenue rising across all businesses and geographic areas. Thanks to the acquisition of Oxymaster in Colombia, sales grew by 22.4% on a reported basis and by 5.5% on a comparable basis. The company also said that the unit reported double-digit sales growth in the developing economies thanks to its aggressive geographic expansion strategy.
Revenue dropped sharply by 58.4% to €52.7m ($57.4m) in its Engineering and Construction business, adversely impacted by a decline in order intake last year. However, the company stressed that order intake showed improvement this quarter as well as higher bidding activity.
The group generated recurrent efficiency gains of €67m ($73m) this quarter – up by more than 10% during Q1 2016. The company said that Airgas synergies, which amounted to $45m this quarter, are “materialising rapidly in line with expectations.”
Chairman and CEO Benoît Potier said these positive results reflect the group’s “new scale” as a result of its Airgas acquisition and highlighted, “All geographies posted growth, notably North America with a recovery in its industrial production.”
As a result and looking ahead, Potier said that the corporation was “confident in its ability to deliver net profit growth in 2017,” and added, “Air Liquide is thus on track in the implementation of its company programme for the period 2016-2020 (NEOS).”