Airgas has reported strong growth in sales, operating income and earnings for its third quarter ended 31 December 2005.

Quarterly earnings from continuing operations grew 43 per cent to $33 million, or $0.41 per diluted share, compared to $23 million, or $0.30 per diluted share, a year ago. Continuing operations excludes the results of Rutland Tool & Supply, which was divested on 1 December 2005, and is now reported as discontinued operations. Quarterly results from continuing operations a year ago included $0.01 per diluted share in integration expenses related to the acquisition of the BOC Group\\$quot;s U.S. packaged gas business.

Third quarter discontinued operations reported a loss of $1.9 million, or $0.02 per diluted share, primarily due to a loss on the divestiture. Income from discontinued operations in the prior year quarter was not significant. Net earnings for the quarter grew 34 per cent to $31 million, or $0.39 per diluted share, compared to $23 million, or $0.30 per diluted share, in the prior year period.

Third quarter sales increased 17 per cent to $702 million, reflecting strong same-store sales growth as well as acquisition growth. Total same store sales were up 12 per cent compared to the same quarter a year ago.

'We produced another quarter of solid earnings growth,' said Airgas Chairman and CEO Peter McCausland.'Our sales momentum continues to be very strong with most regions reporting double-digit same store sales growth. Volume has picked up after the hurricanes and supply pressures of last summer.'

'Our people continue to execute well on our core business, medical and strategic products strategies. By effectively integrating acquisitions and leveraging our sales growth, we improved the operating margin by 130 basis points to 9.8 per cent for the quarter.'

For the nine months ended December 31, 2005, sales were $2.1 billion, up 21 per cent from the prior year period. Year-to-date same store sales growth was 11 per cent, with gas and rent up ten per cent and hard goods up 13 per cent.

Earnings from continuing operations for the nine months were $92 million, or $1.16 per diluted share, compared with $68 million, or $0.88 per diluted share, for the prior year period. The current period includes losses related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita of $0.02 per diluted share. The prior year period includes integration expenses of $0.04 per diluted share related to the BOC acquisition.

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