Airgas Inc. has reported record earnings and strong growth in sales and operating income for its second quarter, ended 30th September 2008.

Quarterly net earnings grew 44% to reach $72.8m, or $0.86 per diluted share, compared to $50.6m or $0.60 per diluted share in the prior year.

The prior year quarter included $0.04 per diluted share of integration expense primarily associated with the 30th June 2007 acquisition of Linde’s US packaged gas business, and a one-time non-cash charge of $0.03 per diluted share related to the conversion of National Welders Supply Company from a joint venture to a wholly owned subsidiary.

Second quarter sales increased 15% from the prior year to $1.2bn, while acquisitions contributed 7% to the increase and total same-store sales grew 8% in the quarter. Gas and rent rose 12% and hardgoods increased by 4%.

Building on such momentum, the company expects earnings per diluted share of $0.82 to $0.84 in the third quarter and reiterated its full-year expectations of $3.30 to $3.40 per diluted share in fiscal 2009.

“We are performing very well in a moderating economic environment,” reflected Airgas Chairman and CEO Peter McCausland.

“Our expanded offering that targets infrastructure construction has been successful in gaining new business, particularly in the energy and power segments. About 40% of our sales come from our strategic products, which posted 11% organic growth in the quarter and are focused on the medical, life sciences, research, environmental, and food and beverage markets.”

“Acquisition activity has been strong in the first half of our fiscal year, with a total of six acquisitions and $142 million of acquired annual revenue to date,” added McCausland.

Year-to-date free cash flow was $112m, compared to $92m in the previous year.

Meanwhile, Airgas, Inc. has announced that its Board of Directors increased the quarterly cash dividend on the company’s common stock to $0.16 per share from $0.12. The dividend will be payable 31st December 2008 to shareholders of record as of 15th December 2008.