The Air Liquide Group today revealed a 5.2% decline in third quarter revenues on a comparable basis against Q3 2008, but is seeing a ‘noticeable’ increase in volume activity.

“This quarter has once again shown the resilience in our sales. The increase in volumes compared to the second quarter is noticeable, even if they have not yet returned to the high 2008 levels,” Chairman and CEO Benoit Potier said in a statement.

Q3 2009 group revenue was €2.980m, down 5.2% against the high Q3 of 2008. Gas & Services sales in particular also registered a 5.2% decline on a comparable basis, totaling €2.514m.

While there’s no escaping the obvious downturn, the figures announced today should also be given some perspective; despite the onset of recession from Q4 onwards, 2008 was another resoundingly strong year of double-digit growth for the industrial gases business.

In addition, Air Liquide has seen an increase in volumes compared to Q2 2009 and the ‘positive signs observed at the end of the first half’ appear to be affirmed.

The Gas & Services activity showed a marked upturn in volume demand from the group’s customers and Q3 sales were therefore up by more than 3% compared to Q2 2009, at constant exchange rates and natural gas prices.

Healthcare continues to grow, bolstered by both homecare and hygiene. The resumption of growth in emerging economies, particularly in Asia, and the recovery of volumes in Electronics specialty gases have been confirmed. Sales in the group’s Large Industries sector were affected by declines in natural gas and electricity prices.

Industrial Merchant recorded a slight increase in volumes, notably in bulk, and continued to benefit from the positive impact of pricing campaigns.

Commenting on the results, Potier explained further, “The positive signs observed at the end of the first half have therefore been confirmed, signaling a trend reversal in several sectors. In this context, we maintain our objective for 2009, of revenue and net income close to 2008 levels.”

Recovering progressively
Such ‘positive signs’ were compounded by a number of third quarter highlights.

Continued strong momentum in Healthcare, the start-up of two oxygen production units in China for the steel manufacturer Jiangsu Shagang, the start-up of a large hydrogen production unit in the US, and a major electronics contract in China are all cited as highlights during the quarter.

In that time, the group also confirmed construction of a nitrogen production unit for the photovoltaic industry in Germany and observed sound progress in its ALMA Efficiency programme - ahead of objectives.

In terms of performance by region, Air Liquide has seen its operations least affected in the Europe region, where Q3 revenue declined only 2.9% to €1.4m.

Operations in Europe saw solid performances in the Healthcare business and a ‘more pronounced recovery in Eastern Europe’. This fares better than in the Americas region where, despite the upturn in chemical sector demand and gradual improvement in liquid and cylinder volumes, revenue fell 8% to €552m.

The Asia-Pacific region witnessed an 11.2% fall in Q3 revenue of €490m, where the landscape was something of decidedly mixed fortunes. Activity in Japan reportedly remained weak, while growth in China was still dynamic. In fact, growth in China was in sharp comparison to weak activity in Japan across all three Electronics, Industrial Merchant, and Large Industries sectors.

In terms of the Middle East and Africa, revenue rose by a resounding 20.4% to reach €68m, as the ramp-up of numerous Large Industries units and recently acquired bulk and cylinder distribution capabilities in the Middle East generates commercial synergies in the industrial basins where the group is present.