Air Liquide has today (23rd Oct) released its third quarter (Q3) results reporting a “marked recovery” in sales across all regions and all business lines.

The French industrial gas group said highlights from Q3 included the mobilisation of its healthcare teams around the world in the fight against Covid-19, particularly to supply medical oxygen; the finalisation of its agreement with Sasol to acquire the biggest oxygen production site in the world; and its more than $160m investment to build a new ASU and partial oxidation unit in the US.

“This third quarter saw a marked recovery in sales. Compared with the 2nd quarter of 2020, which was impacted by the pandemic, all business lines and all regions improved,” Benoît Potier, Chairman and CEO of the Air Liquide Group, commented.

Group revenue for Q3 totalled €5bn. Air Liquide said its business model has proven its resilience in recent months in a challenging public health context.

Business has been picking up across all regions with sales at -0.9% on a comparable basis in the quarter, near 2019 levels.

China saw the most dynamic level of recovery, with Q3 sales up markedly, whereas the situation was more contrasted in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.

Activity is picking up in Europe, and posted slight growth compared with 2019.

Signs of a more gradual recovery can be seen in North America and business remains strong in South America, in particular for Large Industries and Healthcare.

Consolidated Engineering & Construction sales (-24.4%) reflected the priority allocation of resources to internal projects.

Global Markets & Technologies returned to double-digit growth, with sales up markedly by +11.4% during Q3.

Air Liquide said its’ group revenue was down -8.7% due to the materially negative impacts of currency (-3.7%), significant scope (-2.6%) and energy (-1.5%).

Gas & Services revenue for Q3 reached €4.8bn, slightly down -0.9% on a comparable basis.

Air Liquide again cited the markedly negative impacts of currency (-3.8%), significant scope (-2.7%) and energy (-1.5%) as the reason for this.

Significant scope impact included the disposal of schülke in Healthcare and the reduction of the Air Liquide’s participation in a reseller in Japan during Q3 2020, and the disposal of Fujian Shenyuan in September 2019.

“Gas & Services, which represent 96% of group sales, were almost flat, with contrasted situations,” Potier said.

“Momentum in Healthcare and Electronics remained particularly good; Large Industries sales recovered, whereas Industrial Merchant, which showed a marked sequential improvement, still remained at a level below 2019.”

“By region, sales in Europe and Asia were stronger than in Q3 2019 on a comparable basis, and the Americas improved compared with Q2 2020.”

“Global Markets & Technologies also saw a return to growth, whereas Engineering & Construction sales demonstrated progressive improvement, compared to previous quarters.”

Americas

Gas & Services revenue in the Americas totalled €1.9bn in the quarter, marking a decline of -3.3% on a comparable basis.

North America saw a marked improvement in sales compared with Q2 2020, but these remained down compared with 2019, Air Liquide said. Latin America posted sales growth.

Large Industries revenue was up over the quarter (+2.1%). Industrial Merchant saw a strong sequential rebound, but remained affected by the public health crisis and lockdown measures with revenue down -6.8%.

Electronics posted strong growth of +6.6%. Healthcare remains fully committed to the fight against the pandemic and posted sales growth of +8%.

Europe

Revenue in Europe totalled €1.6bn, posting a comparable growth of +0.5%.

Industrial activities saw a significant recovery across the region, although volumes remained below pre-public health crisis levels.

Large Industries sales (-3.4%) grew sequentially compared with Q2 2020. In Industrial Merchant (-4.8%, of which -1.9% from minor divestments), cylinder gas sales returned to a level near that of Q3 2019.

Healthcare revenue was up +9.5% during the quarter, driven by sales of ventilators at cost price that remained exceptionally high due to the pandemic.

Asia-Pacific

Revenue in Asia-Pacific reached €1.1bn, up +1.6% on a comparable basis.

In China, momentum was strong across all industrial business lines, growing at +7.6%. The recovery was slower in the rest of the region, impacted by the public health crisis.

Large Industries (+3%) was driven by demand in China and the ramp-up of a unit in South Korea.

Industrial Merchant (-4%) was still sluggish, but recovered compared with the second quarter, Air Liquide said.

Electronics (+6.3%) remained very strong with growth exceeding +10% excluding Equipment & Installation sales.

Middle East and Africa

Middle East and Africa revenue stood at €145m, stable (+0%) on a comparable basis.

In Industrial Merchant, the Middle East and India improved clearly compared with the second quarter, with the recovery more contrasted in Africa.

Large Industries sales were up slightly compared with Q3 2019, notably in South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

Healthcare, which continues to be committed to the fight against Covid-19, posted strong growth across the region.

Segments

Air Liquide’s Healthcare business remains highly invested in the fight against Covid-19 and posted a comparable sales growth of +8.4%.

Sales growth in Electronics was also very solid at +5.9% and +7.3% excluding Equipment & Installation, with a sharp increase in Advanced Materials and Carrier Gases sales.

Large Industries sales were stable, +0.2% compared with Q3 2019, driven notably by developing economies and in particular, by the recovery in China.

Industrial Merchant posted a decline of -5.8%, sustained pricing impacts of +2.6%, growth in China, the eastern part of Europe and South America were unable to offset the slowdown from the public health crisis which continues to be strongly felt, notably in the sales of hardgoods in the US.

Consolidated Engineering & Construction revenue reached €60m in the quarter, with sales to third-party customers remaining sluggish due to the public health crisis. Air Liquide said resources were mainly allocated to internal projects in Large Industries and Electronics.

Global Markets & Technologies revenue was €143m and saw a return to very dynamic growth momentum of +11.4%, as production capacity was no longer constrained by the public health crisis.

Equipment sales were up markedly, in particular membrane purification systems. The biogas business remained strong, notably in Europe where biomethane sales for transport were up, and in the US.

“The group continued its drive to improve its operating margin, delivering €311m of efficiencies over the first nine months, in line with its annual target of more than €400m, and the additional cost containment plan continued to deliver,” Potier said.

“The continued improvement in performance translated into cash flow from operating activities which reached nearly 24% of sales.”

“The investment cycle remains well oriented and the 12-month portfolio of investment opportunities, which is refocused on growth markets, stands at a high level.

“Investment decisions, which ensure future growth, were significant at €2.1bn at the end of September, almost one third relating to the energy transition.”

“In a context of limited local lockdowns and progressive recovery until the end of 2020, Air Liquide is confident in its ability to further increase its operating margin and to deliver net profit close to preceding year level, at constant exchange rates.”