Airgas has had a record first-quarter with profits surging 34 per cent to $29.6 million.

This compares with $22.1 million for the same period a year ago.

Sales jumped 27 per cent to $691 million, boosted by same-store sales and acquisitions. Total same-store sales were up 12 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2004, with gas and rent up 10 per cent and hard goods up 14 per cent.

Airgas chairman and chief executive officer Peter McCausland commented: \\$quot;We delivered another strong quarter, growing EPS by 31 per cent, as we capitalized on good market conditions. We had exceptional results in our strategic growth categories of medical, specialty and bulk gas and safety products.

\\$quot;Same-store sales of hardgoods led the way again in the quarter, with gas and rent sales reaching double-digit growth, driven by strong volumes and pricing.\\$quot;

Adjusted debt increased $57 million in the quarter, as the company completed four acquisitions with annual sales totalling nearly $100 million. Free cash flow for the quarter ended June 30 was $7 million compared to a negative $9 million for the same quarter in 2004.

Mr McCausland said the fiscal 2006 outlook remains robust with earnings per share expected to be between 37 to 39 cents a share in the second quarter.

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