Air Liquide has successfully reached the 2009 targets it set for itself, and claims a strengthened balance sheet will enable the group to continue to invest and seize growth opportunities in 2010 and beyond.

Group revenue was close to €12bn, with Gas & Services business sales representing €10bn - a decline of 4.8% compared to 2008.

Operating income remained stable at around €1.9bn, operating margin increased significantly, totaling 16.3% compared to the previous year’s 14.9%.

Net profit (Group share) totaled €1.2bn, up 0.8%, and net profit per share remained stable at €4.70.

Net cash from operating activities amounted to around €2.5bn, up 6.9%, and net debt decreased by €593m.

The net debt to equity ratio amounted to 63%, and Return On Captial Employed remained stable between 11% and 12%, in line with objectives.

The group noted highlights of the year, which included sustained growth in Healthcare, the resilience of Large Industries, and a gradual recovery of the Industrial Merchant and Electronics business lines.

On a regional basis, in Europe sales amounted to almost €5.8bn, down 2.9%. Despite a sharp decline in industrial demand, European sales benefited from the sustained growth in the Healthcare sector, an increasing number of new production facilities, downside protection from the long-term contracts in Large Industries, and the diversity of customers and applications in Industrial Merchant.

Gas and Services revenue in the Americas totaled around €2.3bn, down 4.5%. The solid performance in terms of demand and price in Latin America only partially offset the general decline in businesses in North America.

With revenue of around €1.9bn, down 12.7%, performances in the Asia-Pacific region were sharply contrasting; a significant decline in industrial demand in Japan, particularly in the Electronics sector, and stability elsewhere in the region, due to steady growth and major start-ups in China.

In the Middle East and Africa, revenue totaled around €236m, up 17.9% due to the ramp-up of Large Industries production units in Kuwait, Oman and Egypt. Sales synergies were created in the industrial basins where the group is present through new bulk and cylinder distribution facilities acquired in the Middle East.

Commenting on the 2009 results, Benoît Potier, Chairman and CEO of the Air Liquide Group, stated, $quot;In the context of an unprecedented economic slowdown, Air Liquide has once again shown the resilience of its businesses and its ability to deliver a regular performance.”

“The Group has reached the targets it set for itself into 2009, with revenues close to their 2008 level, growth in net profit and a strengthened balance sheet, which will enable it to continue to invest and seize growth opportunities.”

“Air Liquide has pursued its expansion in emerging economies. In parallel, growth markets in the Energy and Environment sectors confirmed their potential. Energy efficiency and CO2 emission reduction solutions offer further opportunities, especially in mature economies. Health and High-Tech continue to expand, driven mainly by innovation and services. In 2010, taking into account these new trends, the Group will update its medium term targets, within the framework of its ALMA strategic program.”

“In the short term, the recovery of the business is apparent, but expected to remain gradual depending on regions or markets. In such a context, and barring a major economic upset, Air Liquide expects continuous growth in net profit in 2010, in line with its long term performance. The Group remains confident in its ability to generate solid and sustainable medium-term growth.$quot;