Radnor based Airgas, the largest U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, welding, safety and related products, reported strong growth in sales, operating income and earnings for its second quarter ended 30 September 2005.

Net earnings for the quarter grew 30 per cent to $29.6 million, or $0.38 per diluted share, compared to $22.8 million, or $0.30 per diluted share, in the same period a year ago. The current quarter includes pre-tax charges from asset losses related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita of $2.8 million, or $0.02 per share. The prior year includes integration expenses of $0.02 per diluted share related to the BOC acquisition.

Second quarter sales increased 19 per cent to $714 million reflecting continued same-store sales growth and acquisitions. Total same-store sales were up ten per cent compared to the same quarter a year ago, with gas and rent up eight per cent and hard goods up 11 per cent, reflecting strength across customer segments and a supportive pricing environment.

Airgas chairman and chief executive officer, Peter McCausland, commented: \\$quot;We delivered another strong performance, earning $0.40 per diluted share excluding the hurricane impact.

\\$quot;We remained focused on our core strategy and managing product supply and pricing in a tight market impacted by extraordinary events. Excluding the charges noted above, operating margin expanded 40 basis points to 9.3 per cent, reflecting solid execution across the board.

\\$quot;Same-store sales of hard goods were buoyed by general industrial demand and strong sales after the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region. Gas and rent sales maintained good momentum, driven by solid volumes and pricing. We continued to see great results in our strategic growth categories of medical, specialty and bulk gas as well as safety products.\\$quot;

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