Airgas, Inc recently reported strong growth in sales, operating income, and earnings for its third quarter ended 31st December 2006.

Third quarter sales grew to $787m, up 12 percent over the prior year. Acquisitions accounted for 5 percent of the growth, and total same-store sales increased 7 percent over robust growth levels in the prior year, driven equally by both hardgoods, and gas and rent.

For the nine months ended 31st December 2006, sales were $2.4bn up 13 percent from the prior year period. Year-to-date same-store sales growth was 9 percent, driven equally by both hardgoods, and gas and rent. Operating income for the nine months was $248m, an increase of 27 percent from the prior year period. The current period includes stock-based compensation expense of $9.9m. The prior year period includes losses related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita of $2.5m. Adjusting the prior year for the impact of stock-based compensation and hurricane losses, operating income for the nine months increased about 32 percent.

$quot;We had a great quarter,$quot; said Airgas chairman and chief executive officer Peter McCausland. $quot;Trends in non-residential construction, industrial production, and energy markets continued to support core revenue growth, and our strategic product platforms were strong.$quot;

$quot;Bulk gas sales grew about 17 percent during the quarter, which aligns well with our pending acquisition of the Linde U.S. bulk gas business,$quot; said McCausland. $quot;We expect to close the Linde transaction in the fourth quarter, which will make Fiscal '07 the largest acquisition year in our history, and our pipeline is still strong.$quot;