Airgas has reported strong growth in sales and earnings for its first quarter ended 30 June 2006.

Quarterly net earnings grew 30 per cent to $39m, or $0.48 per diluted share, compared to $30m, or $0.38 per diluted share, in the same period a year ago. First quarter sales grew to $773m, up 14 per cent over the prior year. Total same-store sales were up nine per cent, with hard goods up 10 per cent and gas and rent up nine per cent.Industrial production, energy, and non-residential construction continued to exhibit strong demand.

CEO Peter McCausland, said: 'Our solid same-store sales results show the sustained momentum we are generating through our core business and strategic product initiatives. Acquisitions contributed nicely to our sales growth this quarter, and we expect to complete some significant acquisitions in the near future as well.

'We improved operating margins by 90 basis points year over year to 10.2 per cent. Our results reflect not only sales growth, but also improvements in operational efficiency. We are executing well with expense and price discipline to stay ahead of the cost curve and to deliver the products and services our customers need.

'Given the continued momentum in sales and earnings growth, we expect to earn $0.45 to $0.47 per diluted share in the second quarter, and we are increasing our full-year EPS guidance to $1.85 to $1.92.'